Cooptation Or Competition: Indo-Pacific Strategic Stakes And Philippine Defense Architecture In Multipolar Arena – OpEd


In the last quarter of 2023 there was a strong stance and objective desire to establish Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in ASEAN specifically in Philippines. Last November 24, 2023, the Department of Justice conveyed the intention of the negotiating panel to replicate the Reciprocal Access Agreement between Japan and Australia (“RAA”). US Embassy Political Affairs representatives affirmed on this agreement while leveraging with South Korea (1) and UK. (2) 

On UK, to recall Undersecretary for Civil, Veterans, and Reserve Affairs (USCVRA) Pablo M. Lorenzo who was welcomed Baroness Goldie DL, the United Kingdom (UK)’s Defense Minister of State for the Indo-Pacific, during the latter’s visit to the Department of National Defense (DND) last October 16, 2023. (3)

Is it noteworthy that Baroness Goldie’s official trip to the Philippines is the first by a British defense minister in the last several decades. Secretary of National Defense (SND) Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. also met the British minister during her visit to the DND via virtual means.

Japan Defense Agenda as Starter and Snowball Effect

Following the recent successful State Visit to the Philippines of Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. held talks with Japan’s State Minister of Defense Miyazawa Hiroyuki during the 10th ADMM-Plus in Jakarta.

Secretary Teodoro and State Minister Miyazawa welcomed the two Leaders’ announcement to strengthen Philippines-Japan strategic partnership through formal negotiations for the proposed Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA), as well as the finalization of discussions for the Official Security Assistance (OSA) grant, among others.

On RAA, which will be one of the centerpiece of discussion among core four (4) member states some other time, the general approach of the RAA is that visiting forces remain subject to the law of the sending state while within the receiving state.

Article XXI of the RAA provides that the receiving state shall have criminal jurisdiction over the members of the Visiting Force and Civilian Component with respect to offenses committed within the Receiving State and punishable by the laws of the latter.

However, the Sending State shall have primary right to exercise jurisdiction over its own members in relation to offenses (a) solely against he property of security of the Sending State, or solely against the property of another member of the Visiting Force of the Civilian Component; or (b) arising out of nay act or omission done in performance of officials duties.

Under the Annex to Article XXI, a Party shall not be obliged to assist Japanese authorities in instances where there is a “sufficient likelihood” of vising forces and civilian component members facing the death penalty and where the Party considers such assistance would be inconsistent with its obligations under applicable international agreements existing at the time of entry into force of the RAA.

This was the compromise reached by Japan with UK and Australia on the issue of death penalty. The Record of Discussion provide for the consideration made regarding Article XXII, among which is that one Party may provide assurances not to impose the death penalty. However, the Record is not legally binding, as it expressly states.

It should be noted, however, that withholding assistance does not necessarily protect visiting forces and civilian component members in all instances.

Agreement in toto to the provisions acknowledging Japan’s criminal jurisdiction will also be acquiescence to the possible imposition of capital punishment upon Philippine members. This may construed as a derogation from Philippine policy, as shown by our ratification of the International Covenant and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and its Second Optional Protocol. 

Meanwhile, there is a proposed plan for further meetings with US, Japan, Philippines, and Israel along with Australia. Philippines has been busy engaging with its ASEAN (4) and Asian counterparts to establish Indo-Pacific rim influence led by US; at least in bilateral mode of strategy before multilateral ones. 

For an instance, DND Sec. Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. met with Republic of Korea (ROK) Vice Minister of National Defense Kim Seon-ho on the sidelines of the 10th ADMM-Plus in Jakarta last November 15. In that meeting, Sec. Teodoro recognized that the ROK is an important partner in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program. Recalling the already robust defense industry cooperation between the two countries, both sides sought to further enhance bilateral defense relations through increased training and education exchanges as well as personnel interactions at all levels.

Moreover, Secretary, Teodoro met with Singapore’s Minister of Defense, Dr. Ng Eng Hen, on the sidelines of the 17th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Commending Singapore’s initiatives in developing intelligence capacities of regional states against terrorism and violent extremism, Secretary Teodoro expressed the Philippines’ readiness in leading the Counter-Terrorism Information Facility (CTIF) in 2024, as well as its continued participation at the Information Fusion Center (IFC). The two ministers recognized the nascent development of areas affected by terrorism. 

Both Ministers also recognized the strong people-to-people relations between the Philippines and Singapore, as exhibited by the substantial number of Filipino professionals who contribute to Singapore’s workforce across different sectors. Relatedly, Minister Ng remarked about the huge economic potential of the Philippines as well as its unique and diverse geography, which would contribute more to ASEAN’s economic growth.

Both sides looked forward to future engagements, as Sec. Teodoro extended an invitation for Minister Ng to visit the Philippines in 2024.

Furthermore, on the planned US-RP strong stance on WPS and SCS issues before laying down card with Japan and Australia, the Philippines has been negotiating with US since 3rd Quarter of 2023. In fact, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro Jr., met on the sideline of abovementioned or so called the margins of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus.

The Secretaries welcomed the historic momentum in U.S.-Philippine ties and discussed their mutual commitment to strengthening the U.S.-Philippine alliance, which has upheld peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region for over seventy years.  They reaffirmed their countries’ shared vision of a free and open region grounded in transparency, the rule of law, respect for sovereignty, and the peaceful resolution of disputes. 

Secretary Austin reiterated President Biden’s message that the U.S. defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad, and emphasized that the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its Exclusive Economic Zone.

  • The Secretaries discussed the importance of preserving the rights of all nations to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows.  In this context, they denounced the recent harassment by vessels from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) towards Philippine Coast Guard and resupply vessels conducting lawful resupply operations around Second Thomas Shoal, as well as dangerous operational PRC maneuvers against U.S. aircraft and ships lawfully operating in the South China Sea.  
  • Taking note of the concerns expressed about the PRC’s recent harassment by a growing number of foreign governments globally, they also emphasized that the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Ruling is final and binding on the Parties and called on the PRC to abide by its obligations under international law.  The Secretaries reaffirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to both countries’ armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft—including those of its Coast Guard—anywhere in the Pacific, to include the South China Sea.

Recently, the Philippine Marine Corps and United States Marine Corps are holding Exercise KAMANDAG, which stands for Kaagapay ng mga Mandirigma ng Dagat, from November 9 to 20, 2023. The bilateral exercise aims to further enhance cooperation and interoperability among participating forces. 

Activities such as KAMANDAG allow the Philippines to achieve various mutual objectives with its security allies and partners. During the dedication ceremony for the rehabilitated runway at Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga on November 6, 2023, Sec. Teodoro, Jr. reiterated that the country is not engaging in aggression against anyone, but the Department is duty-bound to protect norms of international law.

The Basa Air Base Runway rehabilitation project is the largest project under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States, amounting to over PHP1.3 Billion.

On Australia and Philippines, there as a Joint Statement of Secretary of National Defense Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr., and Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles MP on the Philippines-Australia Maritime Cooperative as way forward in West Philippine Sea (WPS).

*Ideas and/or views expressed here are entirely independent and not in any form represent author’s organization and affiliation.


  1.  12th Seoul Defense Dialogue, Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibit as one of the manifestations. Senior Undersecretary Irineo C. Espino, Undersecretary of National Defense, led the Department of National Defense (DND) delegation at the 12th Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD) and Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibit (ADEX), which were convened on October 17-22, 2023 in Seoul, Republic of Korea (ROK). The SDD is a high-level multilateral consultative platform which facilitates discussions on current and emerging security issues among more than 50 participating countries. Meanwhile, the Seoul ADEX is one of the most comprehensive aviation and aerospace exhibitions in the region, bringing together around 100 to 500 exhibitors from across the world annually. During the occasion, Senior Undersecretary Espino was able to engage with current and potential defense industry partners in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program.
  2.  The Department of National Defense (DND), headed by Dir. Christine June P. Cariño of the Office for Cybersecurity and Information Management, received a delegation from the United States, composed of representatives from the US National Security Council (NSC), Joint US Military Assistance Group-Philippines (JUSMAG-P), and the US Embassy in Manila. The primary objective of the US delegation’s visit to the DND was to explore avenues for enhancing collaboration in the fields of cyber security and defense.
  3.  British Defense Minister for the Indo-Pacific reaffirms commitment to UK-PH defense cooperation
  4. Nov. 28, 2023 – Secretary of National Defense (SND) Gilberto Teodoro, Jr. keynoted the 22nd General Assembly of the Veterans Confederation of ASEAN Countries (VECONAC), hosted by the Veterans of the Philippines (VFP) at Sofitel Philippine Plaza, where he encouraged the veteran leaders from 10 Southeast Asian countries to promote regional peace and stability. He graced the occasion as the esteemed guest of honor and speaker, imparting wisdom and vision to the ASEAN military veterans. The assembly hall became a convergence point for veterans, delegates, and guests hailing from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The opening ceremony not only marked the official commencement of the assembly but also served as a catalyst for meaningful dialogues, collaborations, and the forging of bonds that transcend borders.

Jumel Gabilan Estrañero

Jumel Gabilan Estrañero is a defense, security, & political analyst and a university lecturer in the Philippines. He has completed the Executive Course in National Security at the National Defense College of the Philippines and has participated in NADI Track II discussions in Singapore (an ASEAN-led security forum on terrorism). His articles have appeared in Global Security Review, Geopolitical Monitor, Global Village Space, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, Manila Times, Malaya Business Insights, Asia Maritime Review, The Nation (Thailand), Southeast Asian Times, and Global Politics and Social Science Research Network. He worked in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Office of Civil Defense, National Security Council-Office of the President, and currently in the Department of the National Defense. He is currently teaching lectures in De La Salle University Philippines while in the government and formerly taught at Lyceum of the Philippines as part-time lecturer. He is the co-author of the books titled: Disruptive Innovations, Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism: A Philippine Terrorism Handbook, and Global Security Studies Journal (Springer Link, United States). He is an alumnus of ASEAN Law Academy Advanced Program in Center for International Law, National University Singapore and Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Switzerland. He is also a Juris Doctor student.

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