Last October 20, the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation Inc. (APPFI) held its first Track Two Observer (TTO) Discussion Forum at the Max’s Restaurant, Quezon City Circle with Rear Admiral Rommel Ong from the Philippine Navy as the guest speaker for the afternoon.

TTO is an APPFI initiative which aims to create an information sharing platform  on Track Two activities relating to Philippine foreign relations and regional trends and developments of concern to the Philippines. It has two components – an online database and a discussion forum, both focusing on exchanges by Filipino analysts, scholars, and experts with foreign counterparts.

The TTO Discussion Forum was organized to serve as an avenue for analysts to meet and discuss recent developments, as well as to share updates on their Track Two engagements. The forum was attended by 16 members of the network, mainly from the academe, government, and private research institutions.

RAdm. Ong’s presentation was titled “Security implications of Chinese fortifications in the SCS.” He discussed China’s growing sea power based on Alfred Mahan’s book ‘A Desire of Sea Power, providing insights on China’s ongoing positional strategy in the South China Sea. He claimed that the Philippines is still pursuing our territorial claims in the South China Sea but “in a more subdued manner”, saying that there is actually ‘method to the madness’ of the  Duterte administration’s policies when viewed as a whole.

Ong suggested that government officials should be properly informed to weigh the pros and cons when it comes to China’s moves to gain access to our key industries. While he said Chinese investments are welcome, he cautioned against ‘opening everything up’ to the Chinese for the Philippines to avoid what happened to Sri Lanka where the Asian country was forced to give up control of its port for the long-term , due to its inability to pay back loans that China provided.

During the second half of the forum, the participants presented updates on their recent Track Two engagements and their major take-aways from these events.