Here and abroad, the common (mis)perception is that the current government is too cozy with China and, correspondingly, relaxing its claims in the West Philippine Sea. After all, you have a chief executive, who never fails to praise Beijing as a friendly, brotherly nation, which could serve as an indispensable partner for national development in the Philippines, while nonchalantly downplaying the bilateral maritime disputes as a seemingly peripheral concern.
“Thank you for loving us and helping us survive the rigors of this life,” declared Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this year after China extended a generous aid package for disaster-relief and agricultural development. “I made the correct decision [to improve ties with China]. I went alone [on] foreign policy then I went to China and talked to President Xi Jinping [last October].”
Under his command, the Philippines has effectively set aside its landmark arbitration case, sought to pursue an ‘independent’ foreign policy, which “will not be dependent on the United States”, and, indeed, scaled back major joint military exercises with Washington, namely the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Exercise (Carat) and U.S.-Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX).
Plans for joint patrols in the South China Sea have been cancelled, while Americans have been barred from utilizing Philippine bases for conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea. They have also been barred from developing facilities in the Bautista Airbase in Palawan, close to Kalayann Islands, under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Not to mention the occasional cusses against Western leaders.