E49 Video Recap: Philippines-US "Blob" Relations w/ Lisandro Claudio

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We recently had Dr. Lisandro Claudio on the pod for an interview catching us up on Philippine politics from the 1980s through today. This segment touches on the affinity of the Philippine foreign policy and military establishment for the United States, and how it endured even through the term of an “outsider” president like Rodrigo Duterte.


Lisandro Claudio (00:00):

If you look at the foreign policy establishment in the Philippines and the military establishment in the Philippines, a lot of that remains geared towards the United States. So for instance, the Secretary of Defense of Duterte was kind of like a James Mattis figure. At least within the foreign policy establishment of the Philippines, he was considered ... I hate this terminology, but he was called "the adult in the room". And what, that really-

Derek Davison (00:26):

We had a lot of those when Trump was in office.

Lisandro Claudio (00:28):

Yeah, yeah. And what that really meant was he was like Mattis, right? He was meant to continue the kind of fundamentals of Philippine foreign policy. And what that meant was we would remain close to the United States, even if you had a "disruptor-in-chief" as President.

Derek Davison (00:44):

Where does that come from? Does that come from sort of the institutional connections that have built up over time between the Philippine establishment and the United States? Does it come from a sense of, even if we want to have better relations with China, there is this ongoing dispute over the South China Sea that we need to be concerned about, and we need the United States as a counterweight? What keeps that relationship going, I guess?

Lisandro Claudio (01:14):

It's really the Philippine military. There are joint military exercises between the Philippines and the United States. So there's a kind of affection there. And in terms of interoperability, you have to remember that most of the materiel of the Philippine military, historically, has come from the United States. So our soldiers are used to using American arms. So for example, when Duterte wanted to buy more arms from Russia, the generals complained immediately because they said, "This technology is not going to work with the technology that we have." So that's why there's a kind of foreign policy blob, as well, in the Philippines that maintains the relationship, because the military wants to maintain the relationship.

Danny Bessner (01:57):

So one question that I have, would you describe that as a type of neo-colonial relationship? I was just wondering, because for people who might not know, the United States governed the Philippines from around 1898, '99 until 1946 as a formal colony, and then Philippine independence happens. But is that relationship neo-colonial one? How would you describe that?

Lisandro Claudio (02:20):

To some extent, it's a neo-colonial one. And it also depends on who the President is. So for example, when George W. Bush was the President, it was the time of the war on terror and there were Muslim insurgents in the south. So that kind of foreign policy narrative was very beneficial for the Philippine military at that time, because they were able to obtain even more military aid because they said that what they were doing was extending the war on terror in Southeast Asia. And the way George Bush replied to that was, he said, "Well, the Philippines is a major non-NATO ally. And here's the largesse." So yeah, a lot of it is indeed neo-colonial. But at this point it's not just neo-colonial, it's just what people have gotten used to. And that's why it's a kind of foreign policy blob.

Derek Davison (03:12):

I think it also is more evidence of the power of arms sales, which are not just-

Lisandro Claudio (03:17):

Right. Right.

Derek Davison (03:18):

For revenue, but they stick you together. I mean, you're forced to come back to the United States for spare parts for ammunition, because nothing else works with US-made weapons. It's a powerful pull.

Lisandro Claudio (03:27):

Right, right. It's an interoperability issue. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.