Thursday, May 30, 2013


Two Filipinas, born on either side of the Pacific, were among this year’s graduates of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., getting the rare honor of receiving their diplomas from President Obama, the American Command-in-Chief himself. 

Christine Layug shakes hand of President Obama at US Naval Academy graduation rites in Annapolis, Md.

Christine Joy Jiao Layug of Oakland, Ca. was one of several Filipino-American graduates, shining a light perhaps on one remarkable facet of the Filipinos’ long-running affinity with the US Navy. Joining the Navy has become a generational rite for many Filipinos – Christine Joy, for instance, has 10 uncles either actively serving or retired from the US Navy – not counting her father Roy and maternal grandfather (now both retired).

On the other hand, Chinna Louise Eulogio Salio was the only Filipino graduate in Annapolis Class 2013. Born in landlocked Mountain Province and studying to be a nurse, it was almost inevitable she would be drawn to nearby Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City but she too was pulled by the lure of the sea, choosing to go to Annapolis (where incidentally, her younger brother Kendrick is now a sophomore and when he graduates, they will become the first Filipino sister-brother alumni from the US Naval Academy).

Ever since President William McKinley signed an executive order in 1901 authorizing the recruitment of 500 Filipinos in the US Navy, it has been career pursued by Filipinos ever since. Aside from the stability and relative prosperity it offers, the US Navy also provided a gateway for thousands of immigrant families, fueling the growth of the large Fil-Am communities from San Diego, Ca. to Penscaola, Fl. to Norfolk, Va.

The US Navy still casts a long shadow in the Philippines, where its presence is largely seen as the country’s chief deterrent against the aggression and bullying of its more militarily powerful neighbors.

Although she already an ROTC scholarship, Layug said she chose to go to Annapolis because “no other university or college in the US gives the unique training, discipline and academic and physical challenges.” Her mom says Christine Joy has been dreaming of going to Annapolis since high school, likely drawing inspiration from her father and all the other relatives who served in the US Navy.

She was in the Dean’s list and graduated with honors in her Major – Applied Mathematics – eliciting little surprise when she opted for a sub-specialty in Operations Analysis. She’s also part of Catholic Daughters organization in the USNA campus, where she’s a cantor and according to one of the group’s leaders “had the voice of an angel.”

As may be typical of a Filipino “Navy family”, her graduation from the Academy last week was a great source of pride, perhaps made special because she got her diploma from her Commander-in-Chief himself. Her grandmothers – Emily Jiao and Gloria Layug led a tiny army of aunts, uncles and cousins who witnessed the event.

Layug’s next stop is basic flight school in Pensacola, Fl. but she also has ticket via a Burke Scholarship to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Ca. She sees a long and illustrious career in the US Navy, predicting she’ll be staying beyond the minimum 5 years after graduating from the Academy.

Chinna Salio was featured in an Associated Press story on women at the US Naval Academy (this photo was published in the Los Angeles Times)

Salio is the eldest in a brood of six. She was pursuing a nursing degree at the Benguet State University when she veered sharply to the PMA, passing the entrance examinations in 2008. On her sophomore year, she took the competitive tests for the US military service academies and became one of three who made it through (the others graduated last week from West Point and the US Air Force Academy in Colorado).

She is a champion marksman in her class, showing off her medals during a brief vacation at PMA earlier this year.

Salio has been an achiever for most of her life. She was a scholar at the Philippine Science High School (Cordillera campus). She proudly reveals that her younger brother Kendrick, whose passion includes sailing, is now a sophomore in Annapolis and his twin Kenneth is studying aircraft engineering in Canada.

After the graduation rites at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (which pays homage to famous naval and Marine battles including several in the Philippines), Salio was commissioned as an Ensign in the Philippine Navy by Capt. Elson Aguilar, the concurrent Defense and Naval attaché in Washington DC.

Salio is already on her way home to the Philippines where a warm welcome awaits her both at Navy Headquarters and from family in Baguio City. She wants to be a surface warfare officer because that’s where she sees she can put all the lessons learned from the world’s most advanced navy to good use.

Though their paths now diverge, each joining a navy that can’t be more polar apart, Layug and Salio bring a common denominator other than their roots – the drive to serve, to leave their mark and in the cusp of a long voyage, hope and the unshakeable excitement of the future beckoning.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Times are changing, says Washington DC special education teacher Marisol Angala, adding that the diversity that’s fueled much of the growth in places like the nation’s capital should be reflected in their workers unions as well.

Angala, a University of the Philippines-trained teacher at the Jefferson Academy Middle School for the past decade, has been outspoken and passionate about finding better ways to educate America’s school children. It’s driven her to an unprecedented campaign for the presidency of the 4,000-strong Washington Teachers Union (WTU).

She is one of hundreds of Filipino teachers – the vanguard of a foreign recruiting binge by US public schools – who were lured by the promise of better pay and a slice of the “American dream”.

They filled an acute teacher shortage especially in tough, troubled inner city schools that struggled to meet standards imposed by the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act. The Filipino mentors can be found virtually everywhere in America, from top-tier East Coast academies to sparse Indian reservations in the New Mexico desert.

“Times have changed,” Angala declared, “and public education has evolved.”

She wants to steer WTU towards her vision of the future. “There’s a battle being waged right now,” Angala averred, “It’s not about unions standing up for teachers; it’s about teachers standing up for themselves through their unions.”

“There are so many things happening right now at the local and national level which lead to frustration, anger and all those are harmful not only to the teachers but also to the children whose lives we continue to influence daily,” she said, adding that “when I empower, encourage and inspire teachers to do their best for the kids, I am impacting the lives of more than just the students in my classroom.”

Angala is a familiar face in the education protest scene of DC (something she attributes to years at UP where she says she learned stand up for what’s right). She was WTU’s vice president for special education from 2007-2010, a member of the Asian & Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the Teacher Leaders Network and the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society for Key Women Educators.

She is board certified as an exceptional needs specialist and was named Outstanding Special Education Teacher (2008-2009) by the National Association for Special Education Teachers (NASET). She also has two blogs – “Digital Anthology” is the online extension of her classroom and “Teacher Sol” where she tackles education-related issues, including the plight of Filipino mentors in Maryland.

She says the “prospects are both exciting and frightening” as she cobbled a multicultural and multi-generational ticket which, she vowed, would bring "real" changes in the WTU. “We have exceptional candidates in our slate (4 of them are also Filipinos), who carry the promise of being real game-changers because of our diversity, problem solving skills and courage to speak on behalf of our teachers and students,” she explained.

They are pressing for an “objective and fair evaluation system and due process aligned with that system.” She sees the inordinate emphasis on high-stakes tests and the lack of support and resources to teachers as the biggest problems bedeviling the DC Public School system today.

“We should now be thinking how we can change our traditional practices to better reflect the tasks assigned to our schools, teachers and students,” she said, stressing that “teachers should be treated as partners in reforms.”

Her “platform” includes providing more resources to DC public school teachers, lower class sizes especially for schools in poverty-stricken communities, and building respect for teachers.

Unions, she added, are “only as good as their members. I believe we need to set higher expectations and standards for ourselves so we can inspire our students and encourage them to do what it takes to be successful in life. We need to take control of our actions and not sit by as others define effective teaching for us.”

If Angala sounds like she’s gearing for a fight, that’s probably because she’s been there before. A tireless advocate of change, she was part of the WTU panel that negotiated a “progressive” teachers’ contract which led to a 15 caseload limit for special education teachers, among other concessions.

She promised to “rebuild our teacher’s union and make great things happen” as WTU president. The ballots have been mailed out and should be back in the Post Office by June 7.

Her feisty attitude is stark contrast to the publicity that Filipino teachers have received lately – as hapless victims of illegal recruitment, from Prince George’s county in Maryland to the Baton Rouge parish in Louisiana. Angala offers the contrasting image of a fighter ready to pounce on behalf of her fellow teachers and perhaps more importantly, for the school kids.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Growing up on the fringes of the Dipolog city airport, Theodore Karl Quijano was bitten early by the lure of flight and that has taken him all the way to Colorado, where he graduates next week from the US Air Force Academy.

With the cost of college proving too much of a burden on his family, Quijano decided to apply at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City, and later saw the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream by competing for a slot in the USAFA.

“I grew up right next to the airport,” he revealed. “I saw planes land and take off every day and the sight made me dream to be able to fly those aircraft one day.”

He not only learned to fly, he soared in the Academy, achieving feats that should make Filipinos proud – he was given command of Cadet Squadron 10 last Fall after being assigned as Cadet Wing Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, said to be one of the highest positions in the Academy managing over 4,000 people, during the Summer. A year earlier, he was also made Superintendent of CS-10.

“God, family and country – it was clear to me that I was doing this for them, not for myself,” Quijano averred. “I wanted to work for something bigger than myself. This made me stand out in the Academy and drove others to have the same outlook.”

As part of the graduating class of 2013, he marches with honors at Falcon Field next Wednesday. He belongs to the Superintendent’s (overall excellence) and Dean’s (academic excellence) list. Quijano will also receive the Outstanding Basic Cadet Award from the Academy’s Commandant for finishing 1st in the class of 1,300 cadets for military excellence.

In addition he will get his Parachutist Badge, Space Wings (for completing the space operations program that taught him, among others, how to operate satellites), Glider Pilot Wings and the Powered Flight Wings.

Quijano ranked 2nd in athletics for his batch and is the only Filipino cadet (out of 15 who preceded him in the USAFA since 1956) to get a perfect physical fitness score in the Academy’s 500 Club.

The eldest in a brood of seven, he learned early on the challenges of being a leader in the family. “My father inspired me with stories about successful people both in the military and corporate worlds, and how I should work to be just like them when I grew up and help send my siblings to school.”

“But most of all I learned from my parents the value of living with honor, integrity and service to others,” Quijano said.

He spent three years at the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Diliman, Quezon City but the expenses were taking a toll on the family finances, Quijano explained, so he grabbed the opportunity to enter the PMA where he not only got a free education, he also got a modest stipend and the guarantee of a good job after graduation.

He later took the tests to qualify for the United States Service Academies – one of the most rigorous examinations that allows only the brightest and strongest candidates from all over Southeast Asia to join West Point (Army), Annapolis (Navy and Marines) and the Air Force Academy (the Philippines used to have yearly slots reserved in these schools until the US closed its military bases in the country).

Life in USAFA wasn’t easy, Quijano conceded. There wasn’t much difference in training concept with PMA, he added, but it still took a heavy mental, physical and emotional toll partly because he was so far from home and family.

“I couldn’t let my American counterparts look me down; that’s why I strived to be better at everything I do every single day – whether it’s military, athletics or academics. It just so happened I excelled militarily and athletically. I had the right attitude which PMA equipped me with and it helped me get through the difficult times,” Quijano explained.

After the graduation ceremonies, the foreign cadets are usually ushered to a separate ceremony where they will get their officer’s commission from their respective countries. The Philippine Air Force’s DC-based military attaché, Col. Arnel Duco is expected to swear him in as a 2nd Lieutenant in the PAF.

“I intend to serve my country to the utmost of my abilities,” Quijano stressed. “I will use what I learned here to be an asset for change and innovation in the military. I will do what I can at my level to hopefully affect the bigger system.”

It’s been a long journey for the young man whose dreams were built watching the planes fly in and out of the runway close to their home. So, near the end of four years of study and toil, the newly-minted Philippine Air Force officer declared his most ardent wish, “I hope to fly the Philippine’s aircraft soon.”

Monday, May 20, 2013


The country’s top envoy in Washington DC appeared to shift the focus of maritime spats with neighbors from the Philippine’s northern frontier back to the west where a large Chinese fishing fleet was headed to the disputed Spratly islands.

“Over the past two years, the whole world has seen the increase in belligerent activity in the waters in our part of the world, particularly in the areas in and around the West Philippine Sea,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia told the annual meeting of the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads last Friday.

His press release over the weekend made no mention of the more immediate conflict with Taiwan which has stopped hiring Filipino workers, cut trade ties and carried out a much-publicized saber-rattling naval exercise after the Philippine Coast Guard killed a Taiwanese fishermen in waters they both claim as part of their territory.

“When another country stations its boats on a shoal that is a mere 120 miles from our mainland and more than 400 miles from theirs, the Philippine cannot just keep quiet,” he stressed. Adding to his China tirade, Cuisia said “When another country declares that it owns about 75 percent of what the Philippines owns as exclusive economic zone, we are duty bound to stand up and protect it.”

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz begins sea trials off the Carolina coast before making the long voyage home next month.

The part of the Balintang Channel where the shooting of the Taiwanese fishing boat occurred is claimed by both the Philippines and Taiwan as part of their exclusive economic zones. Efforts to define that maritime border and possibly craft a joint use agreement have been stymied by the Manila’s “one China policy” where it only recognizes the government in Beijing. 

The United States has expressed concern over the May 9 flare-up and called on both sides to lower the tension. The Philippines and Taiwan are longstanding American allies, crucial to its long-term designs to reign in China and ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea through which, Cuisia pointed out, $1.3 trillion-worth of US products flow through yearly.

Some officials here say the Philippines is eager to put the crisis with Taiwan behind them and focus on the South China Sea where China has actually, and in some instances, virtually occupied Philippine territory. They have built permanent structures on Mischief Reef just 130 miles off Palawan and last year, cordoned off Scarborough Shoal which lies 120 miles off Zambales in the main Luzon Island.

Two Chinese spy ships have reportedly dropped anchor last week about 6 miles west off the Philippine-occupied Ayungin Shoal, near Mischief Reef.

The Philippines has hauled China to a United Nations tribunal on the laws of the sea to have the latter’s claim, the so-called 9-dash-9, declared as invalid. China alleges that ancient maps assigned her ownership over virtually the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines has sought and received military assistance from the US, a treaty ally with which it has a mutual defence pact. “We are look at opportunities for assistance in training, capacity building and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Cuisia averred.

As part of President Obama’s pivot to Asia, the US is stepping up its military presence in the region, including more frequent US Navy visits to the Philippines. Although Cuisia emphasized the American “rebalance” in Asia also entailed intensified economic and trade ties, there is no mistaking the security bias towards containing a militarily resurgent China and shielding America’s allies against her growing belligerence.

As if to emphasize that dimension of PH-US relations, Cuisia visited the USS Wasp, the Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship which is being prepared to accommodate the US Marines variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Aircraft. He was able to speak with the ship’s Filipino-American crew members during the brief visit.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Last week, Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. issued a statement that got relatively scant attention, lauding the conviction of two men who murdered journalists.

News about the conviction of confessed triggerman Marlon Recamata for the 2011 killing of environmental activist and broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega and Clarito Arizobal for the 2004 murder of Bicol journaliust Rowell Endrinal appeared to draw more international interest than in the Philippines itself.

Human rights groups and even the State Department have bewailed the “culture of impunity” in the country – something that leaders in Manila have challenged vigorously. That “culture” has been blamed for the government’s failures to stop extrajudicial killings, human rights abuses, graft, human trafficking, intellectual property theft and host of other ills that has tarnished an otherwise cozy relationship with Washington.

“These convictions are much-awaited developments that show that the Philippines is heading toward the right direction,” Cuisia declared.

Still he admitted the country “still has a long way to go when it comes to human rights” but the recent convictions left “no room for doubt about the Aquino administration’s firm resolve to put an end to the culture of impunity.”

Before Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stepped down from the presidency, she was pummeled by human rights activists who blame her for about 800 murders, forced disappearances and torture of churchmen, journalists, labor organizers and peasant leaders. The US virtually censured her administration when Capitol Hill imposed conditions on the grant of military aid and made it difficult for her to close a multi-million-dollar Compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

But the blame can’t all be heaped on Arroyo or even on her successor, Pres. Benigno Aquino III who has detained the former president and vowed to crack down against extrajudicial killings and other abuses.

That there is a “culture” that makes this difficult is true. Filipinos seem to be enamored by pop American crime shows like “CSI” or “NCIS” where cases are resolved and prisoners thrown behind bars in the span of one episode.

The top Philippines news and current affairs shows, when they tackle crime stories, are not shy on revealing all the gory details but usually consider the “case closed” after a suspect is tagged or arrested by the police. The coverage of trials is limited to the big, sensational cases, usually when there are some wealthy or well-known celebrities involved. 

There is little patience from the public, and there’s not enough support (or motivation) for the courts to produce what the government’s critics abroad ultimately use as a yardstick – the number of convictions. It seems Filipinos still need to learn the concept of crime and punishment.

Significantly, the convictions of Recamata and Arizobal are the first ever since President Aquino took office 3 years ago. That leaves about 150 other cases (the NGO Karapatan says the number is close to 1,200) of extrajudicial killings he inherited from his much-maligned predecessor that have yet to get anywhere in the courts.

That has opened his administration to charges of ineptitude and their indignant denials, pointing to arrests or the fewer killings today, are futile. Only convictions count, the reckoning of deeds, the punishment of culprits.

In the Ortega case for instance, the Aquino administration fails because the masterminds – former Palawan Gov. Mario Joel Reyes and his brother former Mayor Mario Reyes continue to elude justice (along with former army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, a chief suspect in political killings in Central Luzon).

Whether it’s trying to keep off the human trafficking watch list or burnishing the country’s IPR reputation, convictions are crucial.

Near the end of this month, the Philippines comes for its universal periodic review, a process one once every 4 years by the United Nations Human Rights Council. It will only be the 2nd time the country will undergo the review, and will determine if the Philippines has lived up to its commitments.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Who would think that the general, who once had an “arrest warrant” put out by communist insurgents, could also be a “sorbetes magnate” who last week was given one of the highest decorations a grateful country can give as he closed here in Washington DC a storied military career?

Maj. Gen. Cesar Badong Yano was the country’s defense attaché since 2011 and is credited with working with the Pentagon for the procurement and delivery of two badly-needed high-endurance patrol ships for the Philippine Navy as the Philippine military shifted focus on external defense and the country’s vast maritime borders.

He officially ended that stint and retired from military service – after 34 years, 4 months and 9 days – on his birthday last May 10.

The citation for the Philippine Legion of Honor Award extolled his “eminently meritorious and valuable services” enhancing diplomatic and security relations with the United States as well as Canada.

The citation said Yano provided the Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines “vital information that served as basis in the decision making of government policy makers…relentlessly engaged Washington DC-based security experts and think-tanks to discuss security implications to the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific region and submitted numerous reports very relevant to the present security dynamics in the regional and global arena…”

Under his watch, the Philippine Navy procured two Hamilton-class weather high-endurance cutters (WHECs) that were re-christened the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (currently the PN flagship) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz. A Philippine Air Force C-130 “Hercules” cargo plane was also successfully overhauled in Mojave, Ca. and the AFP itself got $2.8 million-worth of new weapons and various military supplies.

But Yano already had a distinguished career even before he arrived in Washington DC. A native of Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte, he received his commission from the Philippine Military Academy in 1980.

He is the flipside of a deeply respected tandem in the Philippine Army – his elder brother Alexander (PMA Class ‘76) was a former Chief of Staff of the Philippine Armed Forces (2008-09). When we first interviewed him after taking over the Washington DC post, the younger Yano said he decided to join the military so he could watch his brother’s back. And in a Facebook post of his awarding and retirement ceremonies at the Philippine Embassy last week, his “Kuya” was among the first to greet him, welcoming him to the “retired ranks”. It would appear the siblings still keep an eye out for each other.

The younger Yano cut his proverbial teeth leading a reconnaissance platoon with the 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division in Sulu.

He was a team leader at the Presidential Security Command – which strongman Ferdinand Marcos transformed into his Praetorian Guards – during the People Power uprising that eventually led to his ouster and midnight-hour escape to Hawaii in 1986. Though the popular revolt was relatively peaceful, it severely tested the Filipino soldiers’ professionalism and patriotism; Yano stressed that to this day, he is proud he never disobeyed orders yet upheld civilian supremacy and democracy.

He led an army intelligence team in Southern Luzon, served as assistant chief of staff for civil military operations and spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division in Northern Mindanao. He got his first command, the 29th Infantry Battalion, in 1999.

His field assignments were book-ended by a detail as military aide to then Senate President Ernesto Maceda in 1997 and headquarters duties at General Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo and the Philippine Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio from 2000 to 2004 and later as the military’s chief liaison with Congress in 2010.

By 2005, Yano was back in the field, serving as chief of staff of the 7th Infantry Division and later the Northern Luzon Command, both based at Fort Magsaysay in Cabanatuan City.

Two years later he was given command of the 302nd Brigade which had combat battalions operating in the islands of Cebu, Bohol and eastern half of Negros, and appeared to have done such a good job against the New People’s Army (NPA) that they issued a “warrant of arrest” against him and six other army field commanders.

And as he swaps dress suit and combat fatigues with more lively civilian attire, another facet of the man has emerged. It turns out he’s also a “sorbetes magnate” of sorts – he owns a large fleet of ice cream carts – those innocuous, colorful, street-bound push carts that are as much as part of most Filipinos’ childhood as bubblegum or “patintero”.

Nothing perhaps conjures up happy childhood memories faster than “dirty ice cream”, slowly dripping down a sugar cone under the summer sun. They’re refreshing and cheap, but the income Yano made from his “sorbetes” carts helped send his children to Ateneo and LaSalle which he couldn’t have afforded on an honest general’s pay.

If there were qualities that I thought would explain his life’s many successes, it would be his sincerity, humility and keen eye for opportunities. The first piece I posted about him on the internet in 2011 received so many hits I was sure he had a fan’s club back home. I realized then Cesar Yano leaves lasting friendships because he never gets tired of creating new ones and this has made him a “wanted man” wherever he goes and in whatever endeavor he decides to do.

Friday, May 10, 2013


In the wake of last Thursday’s deadly clash between a Philippine maritime enforcement vessel and Taiwanese fishermen and reports that a large Chinese fishing flotilla was steaming to the Spratly Islands, Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. reminded the world these were not ordinary territorial disputes because they had wider implications for international law and commerce.

“While some would like to characterize the issue as a purely territorial dispute,” the country’s envoy in Washington DC said, “the issue clearly has far reaching implications to the international community in terms of respect for the freedom of navigation and commerce, and the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

A Taiwanese fisherman, identified in reports as 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng, was killed when a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries vessel, partly manned by Coast Guard (PCG) personnel, fired on his boat as it allegedly tried to ram them. The Philippine ship was trying to board the Taiwanese fishing boat on suspicion it was poaching in Philippine waters.

According to the Taiwanese government, the incident took place 180 nautical miles southeast of the southernmost tip of Taiwan, which placed the fishing boats closer to the Philippines than to Taiwan. Both countries claim the area as part of their exclusive economic zones.

PCG spokesman Armand Balilo stressed the Taiwanese boats had been in Philippine waters and they were just doing their job to stop illegal fishing.

The incident appeared to draw rare unanimity between Taipei and Beijing as they demanded an explanation and an apology. While the Philippine’s chief envoy in Taiwan reportedly apologized to the dead fisherman’s family, Commander Balilo said in Manila, “If somebody died, they deserve our sympathy but not an apology.”

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was quoted saying, “We demand the Philippines investigate and clarify the truth, to apologize, apprehend the killer and compensate.” Foreign Minister David Lin added, “We urged the Philippine government to open a full investigation on this case and send their apology to Taiwan’s government.”

So far, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) response has been to announce the grounding the Philippine ship’s crew while the incident was being investigated. Reports from Taipei suggest that country’s Ministry of Justice may ask to prosecute Filipinos involved in the death of its fisherman under a bilateral legal assistance agreement signed with the Philippines last April.

This incident comes as the Philippines is keeping a wary eye on a large Chinese fishing flotilla headed towards the Spratly Islands. “We hope China would respect our sovereignty,” Amb. Cuisia told a forum on the South China Sea held this week by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

“We hope there would be no more provocative actions because these do not certainly contribute to the enhancement of relations,” he added.

All these are coming on the eve of midterm elections in the Philippines. Although world affairs have figured little in domestic politics, these incidents could quickly spiral out of control and force the 3-year-old Aquino administration into a corner just like the August 2010 Luneta hostage crisis where a botched rescue resulted in the death of 8 tourists from Hong Kong (President Aquino was forced to apologize after he was caught on TV smiling as he inspected the scene of the carnage).

The President has also been criticized for his handling of the Scarborough Shoal face-off with China last year. He agreed to withdraw Philippine ships from the shoal, a rich fishing ground about a hundred miles off the country’s main island of Luzon, in what was supposed to be a mutual de-escalation of an impasse that began when the Philippine Navy boarded Chinese fishing boats and caught them red-handed harvesting protected marine species. Not only did the Chinese stay, but they’ve allegedly blocked the area against Filipino fishermen. 

Last January, the Philippines brought China’s “9-dash line” claim for adjudication before the United Nations. “What it asks is for the Arbitral Tribunal to declare that China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea are contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and are thus invalid,” Cuisia explained.

The sea dispute, which has been portrayed as a David-vs-Goliath struggle between China and her smaller, less powerful neighbors, has so far been skillfully managed by the Aquino administration.

It’s been used to stir nationalistic fervor at home while highlighting the strategic importance of the Philippines, especially here in the United States where the Obama administration is “pivoting” to the Asia Pacific region.

The treaty allies have agreed to expand US military presence and aid to the Philippines, including stretching north a string of “Coast Watch” radar stations originally built to guard against infiltration by Islamic extremists in Mindanao, to now possibly look at Chinese naval activity in the Spratlys. 

A 2nd Hamilton-class all-weather patrol ship – a sister ship of the one that stopped the Chinese fishing boats at Scarborough Shoal before she was ordered to retreat – is now sailing to the Philippines after extended refurbishing in North Carolina.

The territorial disputes, first with China and now with Taiwan, have helped mute opposition to the increased US military presence in the country. But they underscore the high stakes in playing one superpower against one that’s fast emerging. It requires great skill and anytime someone gets killed in this dangerous game, it just makes the venture that more volatile.