President Duterte has been consistent with his forceful assertion of an independent foreign policy and of Philippine sovereignty
It was the consensus of former ambassadors and economics analysts that President Rodrigo Duterte’s independent foreign policy of balancing Philippine diplomacy with a pivot to Asia, to Russia and to China has numerous strategic and socio-economic benefits is beneficial to the Philippines’ long-term national security interests.
Former ambassadors Jose Romero and Alberto Encomienda and economist George Siy of Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI) all agreed that the normalization of diplomatic ties and direct negotiations with China has not only boosted mutually beneficial win-win bilateral trade, economic and tourism exchanges, but also helped stabilize the Asia n region and minimized tension. The move is also seen to help the Philippines benefit from China’s trillion-dollar infrastructure One Belt and One Road Initiative and its new Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Amb. Romero elaborated on the concept of foreign policy as “an extension of domestic policy.” He explained that the move towards an “independent foreign policy” is nothing new as the 1987 Constitution mandates it. He said the country’s foreign policy should safeguard national interest, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and self-determination. It should also strive for amity with all nations. The president, which acts as the principal architect of the country’s foreign policy must pursue national interest through foreign relations. By gaining new “friends”, President Duterte is being efficient in seeking and working with partners to advance the interests of the Philippines, said Romero.
Amb. Encomienda for his part said that in charting a new course in international relations, President Duterte is laudable in recalibrating the Philippine foreign policy in order to ensure that the Philippines will be subservient to no single super power. Encomienda added that pursuing new friendships does not mean abandoning old friends and in this case, severing ties with the U.S. “It should not appear that we are ungrateful to US because we are turning to China,” Encomienda said.
Encomienda added that it is through the political color given by media’s reportage on President Duterte’s foreign policy that the idea of being “independent” has become synonymous to “leaving the U.S.” when in fact, it is only a move to seek for an alternative. Amb. Romero echoed this sentiment by saying that nothing actually changed in the relationship between the Philippines and the US, even with President Duterte befriending China and Russia.
George Siy, on the other hand said that not only has this reform in foreign policy direction gained new trading partners and allies such as the world’s second largest economy China and energy superpower Russia, Duterte’s independent foreign policy has also gained record-high economic gains from traditional ally Japan.
Siy said that with President Duterte’s direction to improve ties with other world giants, the Philippines has gained access to new suppliers of more affordable security and defense equipment. It was reported that a Russian weapon manufacturer has expressed its interest to set up a manufacturing facility in Limay, Bataan. Siy said gone are the days that the Philippines is tied to just one supplier of security and defense equipment and pay for used, vintage and second hand equipment from the U.S. However, the economic analyst said that apart from defense, there are a number of other areas of cooperation with much potential but have yet to be maximized.
Lastly, all three commended President Duterte’s move to handle the issue cautiously to avoid conflict with China, with Amb. Romero’s comment that there is no point of always placing the South China/West Philippine Sea issue in front of the relationship of PH and China. He said that the government, however, can best engage China in economic and socio-cultural matters so as to improve relations with the Asian giant.
Photo by Edwin Tunay/ Kamuning Bakery Cafe