President Duterte during the ceremonial transfer of Certificate of Authority from US Deputy Chief of Mission John Law to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. Source: US-PH Society

The much-awaited homecoming of the three Balangiga church bells signify United States’ resolve to reset relations with its former colony and longtime ally. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against the West and efforts to diminish the country’s over reliance on America by expanding ties with other major powers, including U.S. rivals China and Russia, unsettled bilateral relations since 2016. The U.S. obviously wants to check Philippines’ increasing tilt towards Beijing and the bells’ repatriation, albeit symbolic and long overdue, is a clear and solid step towards this. Nonetheless, while such a hallmark move is welcome, it may have marginal effect in countering the core of burgeoning Philippines-China ties which remain firmly grounded on economic convergence. Instead, the bells’ return will have greater utility as a platform to restore high-level political ties and cement U.S. position as Manila’s pre-eminent security partner, a position being challenged by Beijing’s foray into security goods provision.

Photo Source: Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco City

The world’s cities are getting smarter. The dual trends of steady urbanization and digitization have changed the way major cities are being governed and managed. Such trends are embodied in the concept of the “smart city,” a model of using information technology in managing ever-growing urban environments across the globe.

The Philippines definitely has intentions of following this trend. Some of the major plans for smart cities include the “City of Pearl” (407 hectares) in Manila, Clark Green City (9450 Hectares) in Tarlac, and Quezon City, with city hall announcing their plans after hosting the 2018 Smart City summit. Whether these plans can solve the problems of Philippine cities remains to be a valid debate.

At a glance, the Philippines may seem ripe for the integration of smart cities. Filipino society has indeed become significantly digitized with Filipinos comprising a huge portion of social media users around the world and one of the largest app markets in Southeast Asia. However, the Philippines also has among the slowest internet speeds in the region and among the worst urban planning in the world with regular traffic jams in major roads. Though the Philippines has a potential market demand for smart cities, the country lacks digital as well as physical infrastructure to supply the promised benefits of a smart city.

The China-Philippines Scarborough Shoal stand-off in 2012, the China-Vietnam oil-rig incident in 2014, China’s island-building and militarisation operations, the Philippines’ Permanent Court of Arbitration landmark victory in 2016 and the regular US-led freedom of navigation operations all highlight the inefficacy of the 2002 Declaration on Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea and the complex interplay of economic, environmental, legal, political and strategic issues. 

Strategic Insight is a collection of original commentaries by APPFI’s in-house analysts covering 2018 developments in Philippine foreign relations. The individual essays have been published and may also be accessed on the Commentaries section on this website.