PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte may have spoken too soon about sending Filipino soldiers to Bahrain and Qatar if violence breaks out in the two Arab countries, which he visited last week in a three-nation swing that included Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab state in West Asia in terms of land area.
In the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Wednesday, he promised military support in more general terms, saying before members of the Filipino community there that the Philippines is a “loyal friend” of their host country.
The President was more explicit on Friday in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, telling a business meeting: “I said that if you [the Bahrain government]need us, you just call and if you want, if things break loose, I hope [they]will not, I pray to God that [they]will remain fundamentally on the side of the Middle East this time. But [if]there’s a violent activity going on… we are ready to help you.”
By the time he appeared before a business forum in Doha, the Qatari capital, the President was committing troops from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to “protect and defend” Qatar, a “hereditary monarchy.”
Before he became any more thankful — he expressed profuse gratitude to Saudi Arabia for treating Filipinos “good” which he said enabled their families to send their children to school — he was stopped short by his national security adviser, Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
Last Sunday, back in the Philippines, Esperon clarified that there would be no “military operational deployment” in the Middle East partly because the country is a member of the Coalition of Maritime Forces (CMF).
“We send observers to that,” he said of the CMF, which is composed of 31 countries, including the Philippines.
It is described as a “unique collective… dedicated to promoting security and free flow of commerce across 3.2 million square miles of international waters in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Somali Basin and the [Persian] Gulf.”
The CMF’s “focus areas are disrupting terrorism, preventing piracy, reducing illegal activities and promoting a safe maritime environment for all.”
The coalition apparently has got all the bases covered, rendering any individual country’s offer of armed assistance an exercise in diplomatese.
Not that President Duterte’s avowal of help could be dismissed as nothing more than the Filipino way of expressing utang na loob (gratitude).
But Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar can very well take care of themselves from external aggression, in part because they are some of the richest countries in the world, with matching firepower to boot.
Also, they have a mighty friend in the United States of America and its allies that would stand by them against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS), if this is the source of the “violence” that the President was alluding to in his speeches during his recent official visit to the three Middle East powers.
Better for President Duterte to help all nations bedeviled by the IS by containing the Philippine-based terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group that was active mainly in southern Mindanao until they showed up in the tourist destination province of Bohol in Central Visayas last week apparently on the hunt for hostages to be ransomed.
Also, better for him to do away with his administration’s unfinished business in the Philippines by engaging in the “focus areas” of the Maritime Coalition Forces, particularly “disrupting terrorism” and “reducing illegal activities.”
As the President’s national security adviser said, military assistance can be effected through exchange of intelligence information, not necessarily through deployment of Filipino soldiers in countries that apparently have no need for foreign troops.