Philippine Foreign Relations

Philippines on the globe (Philippines centered) The Philippines always has been at the conjunction of major sea lanes.The upcoming articles on Philippine history will show how this strategic position always made the Philippines the focus of foreign interests. Presently, the conflict in the West Philippine Sea regarding the islands claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and China among others is becoming more important. Long-standing rivalries between Malaysia and the Philippines may have more to do with who controls the sea lanes that were in the distant past controlled by the Sultanate of Brunei.

It is time to look at the foreign relations of the Philippines.

  • ASEAN: relations to ASEAN neighbors are a mixed bag. Let us have a closer look:
    • Vietnam: both longer-standing scientific and more recent political cooperation in the islands both partly claim lying between them.
    • Indonesia: good political relations recently evidenced in the handling of the Mary Jane Veloso case, but not only.
    • Malaysia: long-standing tensions regarding Sabah and the Muslim regions in the Philippines.
    • Thailand: relations have apparently always been distant and difficult due to mentalities.
    • Singapore: the situation of Philippine OFWs there seems to have soured up relations.
  • Northeast Asia (Japan, South Korea and Taiwan)
    • Japan: good relations, a lot of financial help and investment has come from Japan
    • South Korea: good relations, some tensions with Korean migrants in the Philippines
    • Taiwan: business relations seem to be OK, some political tensions recently.
  • China: tense relations to say the least.
    • The present crisis over the islands which China wishes to control.
    • Increasing numbers of Philippine drug mules caught in China.
    • The Manila hostage crisis involving Hong Kong tourists has not been forgotten.
  • United States: mostly good relations with some issues typical for a post-colonial relationship.
    • Strong cooperation in defense matters and in the war against terror, most recently in getting Marwan.
    • Strong economic ties due to colonial and postcolonial history, also due to English language in the Philippines.
    • The present challenge is to find a way to a politically mature alliance free of both postcolonial servility and defensiveness.
  • Europe: strong trade relations, stronger political relations, foreign aid initiatives. Some issues, relations could be deepened.
    • The EU party funds the Citizen Action Network for Accountability, a grassroots initiative for citizen participation in local politics.
    • The unsolved NAIA3 issue still clouds relations with Germany, even if it seems that both sides made many serious mistakes.
    • The challenge here is to overcome prejudices and see the advantages of working more with a major political and economic area.

The government of President Aquino has made big advances in  developing a foreign policy that works with multiple partners on different levels, and has been very diplomatic in dealing with China which is a wise course, while starting to strengthen cooperation with certain ASEAN partners like Vietnam and Indonesia. From what I have heard, the Department of Foreign Affairs has strongly professionalized in the past years, raising the requirements to become a career diplomat. This is a good thing because the Philippines is in the middle of major global changes.

To fully realize its potential, it might do the Philippines well to remember how the ancient Kingdom of Tondo leveraged its position in the middle of trading routes to become a respected maritime trading power. All such powers, whether old Phoenicia, ancient Greek Delian league, Venice, Portugal, Holland or England, had a powerful navy to protect their trading interests. Recent reports show that this is being realized by some in the Philippines. Possibly, the Philippines is on the way to becoming a player in its own right and managing its own interests with appropriate measures and selected allies.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, May 8, 2015. DISCLAIMER: opinions expressed in linked articles or sources are not necessarily mine.

Tags: ,

The Muslim regions

The Muslim regions of the Philippines with three major ethnic groups – Maguindanao, Maranao and Tausug – were never fully under control of the Spanish colonial government, otherwise the areas would have been Catholic like the rest of the Philippines. Ethnic groups living in the mountains that kept their original beliefs until the Americans came are another notable exception.

In the late 19th century, the Spanish did manage to impose some control over the area, but it was the American colonial government that waged the Moro Wars from 1903-1913 and achieved full control. Relative peace reigned for decades, until the conflict reignited in 1969.

Numerous attempts to find peace in the meantime included autonomy. I will not go into the alphabet soup of different rebel groups and agreements. The most recent attempt to find peace is the Bangsamoro Basic Law which proposes far-reaching autonomy for the area. This includes own police, own waters and nearly everything has to be coordinated with the proposed Bangsamoro government.

The full 122 pages of the BBL may be downloaded here. The BBL avoids mentioning the Philippine Government by name, referring to it always as the “Central Government”, and refers to the “pre-colonial” inhabitants of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan as the Bangsamoro people. Malaysia played a strong, controversial role in the negotiations for the agreement, which involves an area rich in natural resources. On one hand, the desire for peace and prosperity after a protracted conflict is understandable. On the other hand, the dangers are obvious given the separatist tendencies among many Filipino Muslim rebels. Some will maintain they were never Filipino at all, but never miss watching Manny Pacquiao.

The goal should be to develop the area so that all have opportunities and rebellion does not start again, while having enough safeguards in place to prevent local corruption, renewed armament and uncontrolled expansion within Mindanao that may lead to a separate state. Otherwise, hopes of a fresh start will have been premature. Experts of all colors have pointed out weaknesses in the BBL which may have to be fixed. The history of Filipino Muslims, who comprise around 5% of the overall population, is part of Philippine history. This includes their resistance against Spanish and American rule as well as Japanese occupation, the slave raids conducted against Christian settlements and the protracted civil war. Hopefully a peace settlement accepted by most Filipinos especially in Mindanao can be achieved, as only this can truly bring the necessary closure.

Irineo B. R. Salazar – München, May 6th, 2015

DISCLAIMER: opinions expressed in linked articles or sources are not necessarily mine.


Philippine Economic Growth

The Philippine economy has been growing fast in the past years.

  • The GDP per capita is around three times what it was 15 years ago.
  • Not just business process outsourcing, but also industries such as shipbuilding and repair, automotive, aerospace and electronics form the backbone of growth.
  • Mining and agriculture also play a major role, the Philippines having plenty of natural resources and fertile lands.
  • It is not an Asian Tiger yet, but is already considered a Tiger Cub and is moving forward very quickly.
  • However, there are two questions about this growth: its sustainability and its inclusiveness.

Much of the growth is due to offshore production and outsourcing. A lot of revenue from overseas foreign workers contributes to local consumption. So far the local big players are mainly retailers as well as homegrown hamburger chain Jolibee and mall developers, all with some multinational presence. Outsourcing and offshore production can move elsewhere if the Philippines gets to be too expensive or other countries improve their conditions. Overseas foreign workers can be sent home if their is an economic crisis in the host countries. There is also evidence of a growing middle class in the Philippines. However, it is not yet clear whether economic growth is going to alleviate massive poverty that still exists and whether this new middle class has a stable base. Sustainable growth also depends on a broad middle class, both as a stable consumer base and as a breeding ground for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) doing all types of business.

Aside from this there are many other challenges, these are but a few:

  • Corruption has apparently gone down and many people do not see it as something “normal” anymore. But it does still seem to play a major role.
  • The ease of doing business has improved, but the perception is that the bureacracy is still very stifling. A ranking of 108th out of 183 countries is still lower middle ranks.
  • In terms of Human Development, the Philippines ranks 117th out of 187. Literacy which used to be very high, has gone up again after having gone way down in the past decades.

Furthermore, the high Population density especially on Luzon is an ecological time bomb, not just for the quality of life. Manila is barely above sea levels which are rising anyway, overpopulation may cause the Groundwater to sink and endanger the city’s future in the long term. The economic costs of major floods that happen with increasing frequency are immense.

It might be important to decentralize the focus of the Philippine economy to decongest Metro Manila and spread the wealth to other parts of the country. It is already partly happening.

But many more questions remain about what must be done to keep up the momentum of growth and make it something lasting. More foreign investment, open the gates to full foreign ownership? Pursue a government-funded industrial development program? What are the major barriers to growth that need removing? What needs to be promoted more? What needs to be consolidated?

Irineo B.R. Salazar- München, May 4th 2015

DISCLAIMER: opinions expressed in linked articles or sources are not necessarily mine.

Tags: ,

Manny Pacquiao – Filipino

Manny Pacquiao as the biggest idol the Filipinos have at the moment represents in my opinion the stage of development Filipinos have reached as of now. Why?

  • He has overcome being a victim – a kid from the slums who made it to the top of his chosen profession by sheer willpower and fighting spirit
  • He has overcome his vices – he admits he used to gamble, womanize and drink, now he is clean and striving to remain so
  • He has still not overcome his lack of long-term thinking – he can focus on matches but not on his work in Congress

Now let us look at the development of the Philippines and compare it with Manny Pacquiao:

  • The Philippines is no longer a victim. Its GDP is growing rapidly, its population less rapidly than before. Its economy is progressing, the country is modernizing
  • The Philippines has, to judge from reports, made major steps in eliminating its vices – corruption and mismanagement. It is thereby attracting more investment
  • The Philippines in my opinion might still lack true long-term development plans, still relies too much on revenue from call centers and overseas foreign workers

Well, I would say the Philippines and Filipinos are making progress in terms of attitude because:

  • At least the identification is no longer with a victim or a martyr, it is with a winner and a fighter like Manny Pacquiao
  • And it is no longer with someone who flaunted his vices like Joseph Estrada, it is with someone who has overcome them

Now the moment Manny Pacquiao actually does a little more work as a Congressman and people admire him for that, the next stage will have been reached.

The stage after that is when enterpreneurs like Dado Banatao or scientists like Dr. Mahar Lagmay become respected popular idols in the Philippines.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, May 1st, 2015.

Thank you Manny, you fought well. Possibly this is a wink of fate that the next stage is about to begin…

Tags: , ,

Defining Philippine Culture

Philippine culture is unique in Asia due to the various influences it has been exposed to. There are a few theories about where the people that pushed the Melanesian Agta up into hills and mountains came from which I will not go into more deeply. What is known from the Laguna copperplate dated to 900 A.D. is that there was a culture already existing in the Manila Bay Area at that time with strong influences from Java. Indonesians I know have told me that Tagalog reminds them a bit of Javanese. The entire area that is now Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia was under strong Hindu influence at that time. Ming China was a trading partner of Tondo, which for a long time ruled the Manila bay area. Islam began to reach the Philippines in the late 14th century coming from the area that is now Malaysia and Indonesia. By around 1500, Tondo became a vassal to a city founded by Muslims from Brunei and also called Maynila by the natives.

The Spaniards first landed the Visayas in 1521, then conquered Manila in 1571 to make it the capital of the Spanish East Indies ruled indirectly by Spain via Mexico. 250 years of galleon trade between Acapulco and Manila brought influences from both Chinese merchants that came to Manila and people from mainly Mexico, less from Spain. Many Spanish words in Filipino languages are Mexican, some even Nahuatl, the Aztec language. Nobody in Spain will understand palengke, they say mercado. They do not say andar, that is Mexican they tell you, it is caminar for them.

Spanish direct rule in the 19th century caused major changes, with more educated and affluent Filipinos striving for more recognition within the Spanish system. A dynamic that finally led to revolution, then conflict with the new colonial power America, then American colonial rule. The Americans also consolidated Muslim Filipinos, who had only been partly under Spanish control and that more in the late 19th century, into the system after the long and bloody Moro Wars. American cultural influence on the Philippines was very strong and persists until today.

The Malay base culture with Hindu and Muslim elements. Add to that Mexican and Chinese influence due to the galleon trade. Real Spanish influence for a century, then American influence. The older influences have become part of the culture and are fully absorbed by it. Most stuff that was absorbed until the 19th century is totally part of Philippine culture and no longer seen as foreign.

Mainland Spanish influences did not take root much, while American influences are partly absorbed and partly still seen as foreign. The Muslim area is very different in its cultural attitudes. Mass media has spread popular culture from Metro Manila, but large parts of the country still go their own way, facilitated by the fact of many islands and many different local languages. Communities of migrants and workers abroad have distinct subcultures. Add modern communication and the fast pace of change. The question now is: what moments truly define Philippine culture?

P.S. A beautiful picture came to my mind waking up:

Philippine culture lives in a Malay bahay kubo, with a Sony Playstation below the usual picture of the Last Supper.

When it goes to Catholic Church, the Church looks Spanish on the outside, the rituals are colorfully Mexican, but the spirit of worship is somehow Hindu.

When it goes to a Government Office, the System is American, but its officials often have an attitude like Spanish colonial officials, while some politicians act like Muslim Malay datus.

Irineo B.R. Salazar, April 27th 2015

Tags: ,

National identification, communication and learning

This new introduction is in order to place the following article in the proper context. Language is an important issue in the Philippines and I see three possible ways to go:

1) Complete Americanization or globalization with some local flavor – make the Philippines like Guam or Hawaii.

2) Complete Filipinization, which is the flavor of many Filipino nationalists, but may not be practicable.

3) Something in between I call pragmatic nationalism with many possible flavors and variations, acknowledging and accepting local identity at some level, still being open to abroad but controlling the access of foreigners to the local scene, for example by speaking their language(s) like the Dutch do, but having an own language or languages for use within the country.

Language is also about one’s own culture and traditions, do people want to preserve them or not? It all ties in with where the Philippines wants to go, my first question in this blog. The following article is a somewhat different proposal to encourage further discussion, to think about all the possibilities.

Most of the more than 100 languages in the Philippines are linguistically classified as Philippine languages, to which certain languages from Sulawesi also belong. Exceptions are the Spanish creole language Chavacano with around 600.00 speakers – and English.  Northern Philippine languages include Ilokano and Kapampangan; Tagalog, Cebuano and Bikol are Central Philippine languages; Maguindanao and Maranao are Mindanao languages. Some Lumad languages lie outside the main language groups. As of 2000, languages with at least one million speakers were:


  • Tagalog with around 26 million speakers
  • Ilokano with around 8 million speakers
  • Kapampangan with around 3 million speakers
  • Pangasinan with around 2.5 million speakers
  • Northern Bikol with around 2.5 million speakers
  • Southern Bikol with around 2 million speakers


  • Cebuano with around 21 million speakers
  • Hiligaynon with around 7 million speakers
  • Waray-Waray with around 3 million speakers


  • Maranao with around 2 million speakers
  • Tausug with around 1.8 million speakers
  • Maguindanao with around 1.8 million speakers

Visayan languages and Tagalog are also spoken much in Mindanao. The national language Filipino is based on Tagalog and is spoken by around 45 million of the ca. 100 million Filipinos. Modern Filipino spoken on the streets is strongly influenced by the Filipino spoken in Metro Manila and spread via television and movies. The official language English is spoken by around 60 million Filipinos with varying proficiency, while Spanish has all but disappeared. Filipinos often code-switch between Filipino or their own local language and English.

Obviously the Philippines lacks a common tool for learning, identification and communication. English is widely used but often badly spoken and used in a perfunctory, shallow way like Latin was used in medieval times. Starting school in a language too different from what one speaks at home hampers true learning and encourages rote. A language closer to what one has learned at home and to what one feels is better for identification and communication. However, Filipino is presently only spoken by less than half of the population. Let us look at the situation:

  • Ilokano is a Northern Philippine language and somewhat different from Central Philippine languages. It is the lingua franca of most of Northern Luzon.
  • Central Philippine languages are very similar. It is therefore not difficult for a Bikolano to learn Filipino. Visayans could easily learn Filipino too but often don’t.
  • The Visayan language subgroup, which is more of a dialect continuum than separate languages, has more speakers than Tagalog and is strongly represented in Mindanao.

The pragmatic solution might be like in Switzerland, to have THREE national or major languages:

  • Filipino/Tagalog would cover most of Luzon except the North plus Mindoro and Palawan.
  • Cebuano would cover the Visayas and major parts of Mindanao.
  • Ilokano would cover Northern Luzon.

In due time, the majority of Filipinos would speak one of three national languages, many at least two. This in conjunction with federalism or decentralization may increase the still weak identification with the country in many provinces. This not in contradiction with building a strong national community, if one overcomes traditional nationalist dogmatism.

The intellectuals that promote languages for teaching should also be more flexible and accomodate more words from living street language without becoming vulgar, in order to increase accessibility and acceptance among the people who are the target audience. The German dictionary Duden is very quick in adapting current terms used in the mass media while still labelling inappropriate street terms as such. Most formal Filipino dictionaries hardly reflect reality, meaning they do not help learn a useful language. And getting it to the children might work this way:

  • teach the first four years in the national or major language used in the specific area, the similarity with the own local dialect would help in learning.
  • learn one other national language starting Grade 5. Ideally Ilokano for Cebuanos and Tagalogs, and Cebuano or Tagalog for Ilokanos to have good coverage.
  • Starting 7th grade, English or Spanish, both global languages. Latin America is now economically resurgent and Spanish is part of the Filipino heritage, just as English is.

In fact I think Spanish is closer to the Filipino soul than English is. But English should not be dropped, it is also part of the Filipino heritage, just somewhat younger. The plurality and the colonial heritage of the Philippines should be recognized and accepted. To form a strong bond that is really lived by the national community. One that is in the end more competitive in a globalized world.

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, April 24th 2015

Tags: ,

Quo vadis Philippines?

To know where the Philippines is going, it is important to know how it came to be. How the islands that became the Philippines were settled is a subject of numerous theories. The earliest documented trace of a civilization is the Laguna copperplate, dated to 900 A.D. and mentioning Tondo for the first time. Tondo was also known to have contact with the Ming dynasty. Around 1500, the Sultanate of Brunei established a city known as Kota Selurong on the opposite bank of the river Pasig. This city was also called Maynila, possibly due to a native plant growing there.

After first landing in the Philippines in 1521, the Spanish eventually conquered the Manila Bay area and founded the city of Manila on the place where Kota Selurong was in 1571. After some initial difficulties and insurrections, Manila became the capital of the Spanish East Indies which included the Philippines, Guam, the Caroline islands, parts of what is now Taiwan and the Moluccas under the Viceroyalty of New Spain which was in Mexico City. The galleon trade between Acapulco and Manila persisted for around 250 years, loading silver from Potosi and Mexico to be traded for oriental goods taken to Manila by Chinese merchants. Inspite of  numerous revolts, Chinese pirates and Muslim sultanates in the South that were never fully under Spanish control and regularly conducted slave raids, and a short British occupation of Manila in the late 18th century, the Philippines was ruled via Mexico until it became independent in the early 19th century.

Direct Spanish rule brought many changes, especially from the mid-19th century onwards, when public schooling was introduced and the Suez canal was opened, leading to more educated and affluent people in the country. John Crawfurd said in his book History of the Indian Archipelago, (1820) that the “Philippines alone did improve in civilization, wealth, and populousness under the colonial rule”. Increasing opportunities led Filipinos seek first more autonomy, then finally independence. A revolution broke out in 1896, also the start of the Spanish-American war.

The United States had supported the revolution, but then bought the Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines from Spain in 1898, while Cuba was released into independence. The Philippine-American war broke out between the newly declared Philippine Republic and the United States and lasted for three years, with the last rebel groups surrendering years later. From 1901-1913, the United States fought the Moro Wars against the Muslims in the South of the Philippines. The United States consolidated their colonial rule over the Philippines, then gave autonomy in 1935.

The Philippine Commonwealth prospered from 1935 onwards, only to be interrupted by the Japanese invasion. After returning to the Philippines, the United States released the country into independence in 1946, with United States bases that stayed until 1991 and preferential trade agreements that lasted until the early 1970s. President Ferdinand Marcos, who had been voted into power twice in 1965 and 1969, declared Martial Law in 1972. Even if Martial Law was officially lifted in 1981, Marcos rule was a de facto dictatorship marked by numerous human rights abuses.

The murder of Marcos rival Benigno Aquino Jr. at Manila International Airport in 1983 fueled a mass movement that culminated in snap elections in 1986 and the People Power movement that made his widow Corazon Aquino President in 1986 via the February revolution on EDSA where Minister of Defence Juan Ponce Enrile and Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel Ramos switched sides. Under the new Constitution, “Cory” ruled for six years until 1992, a time marked by numerous military coups and troubles. President Fidel Ramos took over in 1992 and ruled until 1998.

Former actor Joseph Estrada, also known as “Erap”, was voted into the Presidency due to his popularity in 1998. Numerous scandals caused him to face impeachment in 2000, a new mass uprising know as EDSA Dos caused him to be ousted and replaced by his Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2000. Arroyo’s reelection in 2004 was marred by the Hello Garci scandal. Numerous scandals caused President Arroyo to become very unpopular. In the hope of a better future, the Filipino people voted the son of Benigno and Corazon Aquino into power in 2010.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III brought economic progress and modernization into the country and also was able to reduce corruption, but had enormous difficulties in dealing with entrenched political forces. His term has been beset by political crises since the beginning, the most severe one being the recent massacre of 44 Special Actions Forces policemen in Mamasapano in course of killing the international terrorist Marwan who was hiding in the area. Autonomy for Filipino Muslim areas after more than 40 years of conflict is being questioned as a result.

The coming 2016 election is seen as the most important election, especially in view of the progress the country has made. The Asian region is becoming more important. China is making a grab at islands also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, which may cooperate more in the near future. Malaysia was heavily involved in the negotiations for the Bangsamoro Basic Law which is designed to give autonomy to Filipino Muslim regions. The United States is the Philippine’s major ally. In this situation the question is – where is the Philippines going next? Into what future?

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, April 23rd 2015

Tags: ,