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YCAPS Afloat: Manila event after-action report

YCAPS Afloat is a new initiative series through which Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS) directly supports U.S. Navy personal in their efforts to expand their regional knowledge and strategic thinking while deployed. Working through commands’ leadership and/or Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs, YCAPS Afloat provides information and other resources or, when there are sufficient interested personnel, establishes a YCAPS chapter on board specific ships.

The first YCAPS Afloat chapter is onboard the USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet Flagship. Its members come from the Blue Ridge crew, the 7th Fleet Staff, and the embarked Marine force. Since Blue Ridge began its 2019 spring patrol, the chapter has been particularly active. It has organized a Japanese-language study club meeting three times a week and a weekly regional studies movie night. Supporting the professional development of Sailors’ during Blue Ridge’s port visits, it has also worked with the MWR program to recommend tours and provide information directly to those interested about the most valuable places to visit for those seeking to enlarge their regional understanding.

On March 15, YCAPS Afloat kicked off its inaugural port visit event in Manila with a discussion round-table featuring four prominent Filipino scholars: Jay Batongbacal, Richard Heydarian, Jose Custodio, and Deo Onda. Noteably, this was also the first YCAPS event to be organized outside of Japan. Eight Sailors attended and the event was developed in partnership with Japan-U.S. Military Program (JUMP). Each of the scholars introduced their areas of expertise before engaging with attendees in a round-table discussion.

Dr. Batongbacal began the discussion with a brief overview of the ongoing encroachment of the PRC into Philippine territorial waters and island formations since the departure of the U.S. military in the early 1990s through to the present day. He touched heavily on the influence that the Duterte presidency has had on growing ties with China, while approaching the relationship with the United States as one that the U.S. should not take for granted. He highlighted, however, that as of late, with sputtering execution of promised infrastructure and development projects from the PRC that the historical relationship with the United States still largely applied despite a perceived shift in Philippine foreign policy.

Mr. Heydarian provided detailed insight into the Duterte administration policy trends and cabinet members and drew many parallels with the Trump administration. The discussion specifically delved into Duterte’s reluctance to aggressively pursue action and pressure the international community to stand with the Philippines regarding the Hague’s ruling on the South China Sea Arbitration case. Instead, Duterte has chosen to placate the PRC with muffled rhetoric on the subject.

Mr. Custodio examined the role of the military in past and current administrations, emphasizing the large role the Philippine Army has had historically with the Navy or Air Force, and the impact this has had on Philippine foreign policy as the Philippines largely looks inward to maintain border integrity from separatists and rebel groups. This has left the Philippines wanting in terms of Naval and Air Force firepower and readiness, something that of late has begun to be addressed due to territorial incursion from the PRC.

Mr. Onda covered and answered questions regarding the condition of state-funded scientific research and institutions in the Philippines today, as well the impact of land reclamation on the destruction of natural fisheries surrounding the Philippines. He provided a unique look into what the PRC demands during so-called “joint research,” where in fact much of the data and research is done and kept by the Chinese exclusively, sometimes with the Philippine government’s blessing if that is seen as politically or economically advantageous to the administration.

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