Duterte’s China pivot made no effect on military upgrade

MANILA, Philippines (First published Nov. 2, 7:05 p.m.) — The Philippines continues to bolster its military despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s move to improve relations with China, a defense analyst said.
According to Alexander Vuving of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, the build-up of Philippine military forces has hit a plateau between 2007 and 2012 when military spending remained the same.
The standoff between the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal, 120 nautical miles off Manila’s coast, from April to June 2012 led the government to jack up military expenditure by 136 percent between that year and 2016.
The United Nations Arbitral Tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.
“It is noteworthy that President Duterte’s about-face regarding the 2016 South China Sea rulings and his pivot to China do not significantly affect the Philippines’ force modernization,” Vuving said.
“The 2012 standoff with China over the Scarborough Shoal may prove to be a watershed in the evolution of the Philippine strategic culture, reverting a decade-long neglect of the air force, navy, and coast guard,” he added.
Manila’s reliance on the United States for its external defense and its focus on internal threats, such as Muslim and Maoist insurgencies, have resulted in the “chronic neglect” of its navy, air force and coast guard, according to Vuving.
Past attempts at modernization, he said, have failed due to economic problems and lack of funds.
In 1995, the Philippines passed a law calling for the modernization of the AFP following China’s occupation of Mischief Reef, which exposed its lack of capability to protect its territory.
However, this plan was halted by the 1997 Asian financial crisis.