MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines must use “smart power” in dealing with neighbors and defending territories, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Jessie Dellosa said Friday at the close of this year’s Balikatan military exercises with the United States.
“Today’s emerging challenges, in the context of the dynamics in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, require pragmatism and the use of smart power,” the AFP chief said in what sounded like an allusion to the country’s tense relations with China.
“It is apparent that a practical blend of the concepts of ‘might is right’ and ‘right is might’ should be explored, shared among friends and allies, and eventually put to good use,” he said, reading a prepared speech before an audience of American and Filipino troops.
“For the Philippines, striking a workable mix may also require increasing capacities to defend its dignity and its rights as a sovereign nation,” he added.
Dellosa suggested that diplomacy must come from a position of relative strength.
“While diplomacy is the normative path to tread, it should be matched with capabilities to attain stability, security and development. That is the prevailing logic of Balikatan and the strategic partnership of our forces. It is what it is. It will be into the future,” he said.
The two-week Balikatan exercises commenced on April 16 involving some 4,500 American troops and 2,300 Filipino soldiers spread out in several towns, including war games in Puerto Princesa City on a bay facing sensitive pockets of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
But the annual joint exercises attracted more attention than usual because of a continuing diplomatic spat with China over certain disputed territories, including a standoff between Philippine and Chinese forces at Panatag, known internationally as Scarborough Shoal.
The standoff followed a series of other confrontations in the contested waters with both sides trading accusations of intrusions on each other’s territories, particularly the Spratlys, a reputedly resource-rich chain of islets and reefs claimed by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.
Defense Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta, who delivered Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s message during the ceremony, said in an interview that the Filipino soldiers gained “some professional skills” from the exercises.
Asked about the upcoming meetings of Gazmin and Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario in the United States, he said the talks would revolve around “our existing treaty with the purpose of enhancing our relations.”
“The topics will be pertaining to defense and security and some economic and political matters,” he said.
Asked if the Panatag standoff would be raised in the talks, Azcueta replied: “We are concerned and the Philippines and the United States will be tackling how we can maintain the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in that area.”