Duterte's statement on 'separation' from the U.S. — a national tragedy, says former foreign affairs chief

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Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario (file photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A "national tragedy" was how former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario described President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of a "separation" from the United States.

He said the move was "unwise" and "incomprehensible."

"What is unfolding before us must be considered a national tragedy which does not need to happen….We must be with responsible nations with whom we share our core values of democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law. To stand otherwise is not what Filipinos are, is not what we do, is not what is right," stressed Del Rosario.

Del Rosario is a former ambassador to Washington. He played a major role in the filing of a maritime case by the Philippines against China in the international arbitral tribunal in The Hague. The Philippines won the case in July, but China refuses to recognize the ruling.

Another former diplomat, Lauro Baja, who was the country's Representative to the United Nations, was also critical. He warned this policy shift would benefit only China.

"No matter how you look at it, it's a victory for China. What do we get for the Philippines? As of now, nothing except to talk," Baja noted.

This is also a setback for the US and its efforts to remain a regional power, according to geo-politics professor Bobby Tuazon of the University of the Philippines-Manila.

"Magkakaroon ng negative impact sa rebalance strategy nila sa Asia. Mababawasan ang military power nila sa Asia… Malaking impact iyan at kawalan sa US dahil  mawawalan siya ng strategic hub dito," he said.

[Translation: This will have a negative impact on their rebalance strategy in Asia. This will diminish its military power in Asia… This is a big loss for the US which will no longer have a strategic hub here.]

Tuazon also questioned why, after decades of  military assistance from the US, the  Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is still among the weakest in Asia. For this year, according to the Philippine Embassy in Washington, the US is giving $120-million in military aid to the country, the biggest in 15 years.  

"Nasaan yung modernization na sinasabi ng AFP?  Nasaan ang transfer of arms and technology? Forever na ba tayo parang dependent sa isang foreign super power?" Tuazon asked.

[Translation: Where is the modernization that the AFP is talking about? Where is the transfer of arms and technology? Are were forever dependent on a foreign super power?]

Philippine-US relations date back 70 years, supported by defense treaties — some of which are still in effect. These include the Mutual Defense Treaty, the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in 2014. 

The two allies hold regular annual military exercises. However, Duterte has ordered that the  Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise held this month should be the last under his term.  

Geo-political analyst Richard Heydarian doesn't believe the country would totally cut ties with the US, only  that the Philippines will no longer play favorites in its foreign policy.

"We're entering a new normal in bilateral relationships. U.S. is no longer special and sacrosanct to us under Duterte... We have to renegotiate the terms of our relationship," he said.