SONA 2016 PROMISE TRACKER: Foreign relations

President Duterte’s declaration of an independent foreign policy is consistent with the wording of the constitution, but what is new is the Philippines’ pivot to China and Russia and its deteriorating relationship with the United States, its long-standing ally and partner.

The country has also strengthened its strategic partnership with Japan, its bilateral relationship with Australia and maritime security cooperation with neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia.

On the domestic front, a bill that will lengthen to 10 years the validity of the Philippine passport is awaiting Duterte’s signature. The president’s promise to open more Consular offices to decongest Metro Manila sites and avoid queues for passport applications seems to have hit a snag. So far only one satellite office was opened, part of a project that started in 2012. And the queues in booking appointments for passport application have become longer than ever.

On strengthening relations with neighbouring countries

PROMISE: “We have to strengthen our coordination with Indonesia and Malaysia to suppress the kidnappings in the waters of our neighbouring countries.”

The joint maritime patrol by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia to fight transnational crimes and terrorism in the Sulu Sea began on June 19, 2017, one year after it was conceived. The Trilateral Maritime Patrol was inaugurated in the Tarakan Naval Base in North Kalimantan, Indonesia.

While this trilateral cooperation kicked off under President Duterte’s watch, the three countries had agreed to this coordinated maritime security-related activity back in a May 5, 2016 meeting in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. With the spate of kidnappings and armed robbery in the waters around the Sulu Sea last year, the defense chiefs of the three countries held their first meeting in Manila on July 20, 2016.

A similar Trilateral Meeting on Security with an expanded membership that included the foreign ministers, national security advisers, the police and military chiefs of the three countries took place on June 22, 2017 in Manila. They agreed, among others, to consider the proposed plan of action addressing regional maritime and security challenges affecting the three countries.

On sustaining bilateral and multilateral relationships with other nations

PROMISE: “We also endeavor to develop and cultivate partnerships with nations sharing common interests and concerns with the Philippines; maintain and sustain bilateral and multilateral consultations and dialogues.”

The President visited 17 countries and Hong Kong SAR in his first year in office. He has completed his ASEAN swing, visited China twice, travelled to Japan, Russia and to three Gulf States - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar. He also participated in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting in Lima, Peru, and made a brief stop in New Zealand to meet the Filipino community there.

Two embassies have re-opened in the Philippines - Sweden and Hungary - to pave the way for renewed partnerships and new avenues of cooperation with the government. The re-opening of these embassies had been planned before Duterte became president. Colombia and Poland have also announced plans to open their embassies in Manila.

New bilateral consultations and dialogue mechanisms have also been forged with Denmark, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Djibouti. A special Political Consultation between Philippines and Switzerland also took place on March 28, 2017.

On developing alliances for security and fighting terrorism

PROMISE: “We will continue to expand cooperation on human assistance, disaster response, maritime security and counter terrorism. We shall deepen security dialogues with other nations to build greater understanding and cooperation."

President Duterte is building alliances with two non-traditional security partners, China and Russia.

His visit to Russia in May 2017 signaled that his government is intent on engaging new partners.

Agreements forged in Moscow covered defense cooperation, intelligence sharing, agriculture, trade, tourism, culture, foreign affairs, transportation, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Some US$875-million worth of business-to-business deals were also signed during the Russian visit where he sought help in counter-terrorism directly from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Duterte’s state visit to China on October 18-21, 2016 resulted in an economic windfall to the tune of US$24-billion in business deals and public financing and pledges of military cooperation.

The crisis in Marawi City enabled China to deliver on its promise of military assistance sooner than expected. Duterte said he is open to having a much bolder defense cooperation with China in the areas of joint training, intelligence sharing, and even “joint military exercises in the area of fighting terrorism.”

The P370-million worth of rifles and ammunitions donated by China to Philippine troops fighting in Marawi is significant because it comes from a new security partner, but the bulk of Philippine military assistance, from surveillance capability to training, still comes from its traditional allies and partners -- the United States, Japan and Australia.

Duterte’s visit to Japan on October 25-27, 2016 was reciprocated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the first state leader to visit the country barely six months into Duterte’s presidency. The visits were complemented by a robust aid package that further enhanced the strategic partnership of two allies.

The Duterte government’s engagement with Canberra has so far been limited to Australia’s Foreign minister’s talks with the president during a visit to the country. As for the US, the Philippines has so far held foreign ministry-level meetings in Washington, although there have been two telephone conversations between Duterte and US President Donald Trump.

In terms of maritime security, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has now partnered with the China Coast Guard for maritime cooperation. PCG’s long-standing partner for capacity building has always been Japan Coast Guard but there is now a Philippines-China Joint Coast Guard Committee on Maritime Cooperation where they also established a hotline mechanism to facilitate communications in agreed areas.

PCG and CCG also agreed to conduct bilateral exchange activities in 2017, including high-level visits, maritime operations and related exercises, vessel visits and capacity building. At least 20 members of the PCG have already taken part in a 10-day training classes at the China Maritime Police Academy last May.

On the validity of Philippine passports

PROMISE: “On the clamor of our citizens for timely issuance of Philippine passports, the government shall work towards amendment of the 1996 Passport Law to lengthen the validity of the passports from the current five years to 10 years.”

Ready and awaiting the President’s signature so it can become a law is Senate Bill 1365, which seeks to make regular passports valid for a period of 10 years. It is the full Senate version that was agreed on and adopted by the Bicameral Conference Committee last May.

The bill, part of his priority legislative agenda, seeks to amend Section 10 of Republic Act 8239 or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996. But individuals below 18 years of age will still be issued a five-year passport.

On streamlining DFA’s consular services

PROMISE: “I have also ordered the DFA to streamline documentary requirements and passport applications and open additional Consular Offices in strategic places to decongest Metro Manila sites and avoid queues that have caused hardships and suffering to passport applicants."

The Department of Foreign Affairs under the Duterte government has so far opened one additional satellite office in the National Capital Region – NCR North in Robinsons Novaliches -- bringing to six the total in Metro Manila. DFA’s program of establishing satellite units began in August 2012 with the opening of the Megamall office.

But even with six satellite offices to service passport needs, it still takes three months to get an appointment in any of the Metro Manila sites. For instance, at the DFA Manila-ASEANA office, the next available appointment as of this week is October 3; at the DFA NCR East-Megamall, October 6; and October 9 for DFA NCR Northeast-Ali Mall

Before they opened the first satellite office, it took two months to get an appointment at the DFA main office. At least in Davao, it takes less than a month to get an appointment. In Cebu, waiting time is also three months.

And from 15 days processing time in 2012, it now takes longer for a passport to be released. As stated in the site, “for domestic applications which pass the requisite records check and biometric verification, passports should be ready for release after twenty (20) work days from the date of payment.”

There has been no change in the documentary requirements for passport application.

Find out how Duterte fared in other sectors here.


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