The Philippines Should Pursue Partnerships, Not Alliances

With President Duterte emphasizing the need to pursue an independent foreign policy, it is time for the Philippines to do away with the Cold War-era mentality of building alliances with a few and instead seek partnerships with many. It is through partnerships, not alliances, that will help the Philippines stand on its own in rebuilding and constantly evolving its the strength of its military and economy.

The move of President Rodrigo Duterte to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States did not come as a surprise to me. From the very beginning, he already made his position clear about pursuing an independent foreign policy, one where the Philippines will recalibrate towards being a "friend of everyone" and not just of mainly Western countries. For that, he got the respect of the leaders of other countries, who now see the Philippines as a country that finally has a real leader in the post-Ferdinand Marcos era.

Since he assumed office on June 30, 2016 and even during the 2015-2016 presidential elections campaign, President Duterte is the subject of negative propaganda coming from and the source of hatred of the pro-Western (more specifically, pro-American) Filipino "nationalists," who accused him of "being a sellout to China" since his decision to recalibrate foreign policy means the Philippines forging improved ties with China and Russia, two countries that are perceived to be geopolitical rivals of the United States. With the abrogation of the VFA, there is now more negative publicity, with "analysts" appearing on both traditional and social media to say things such as the Philippines "risks being overrun by China", the Armed Forces "stands to lose more because the United States provides it with financial and material backing", the move to abrogate the VFA "will end the Philippines alliance with the United States", etc. To make matters worse, the same "analysts" and the partisan press are fanning anti-Chinese sentiment, which is made worse by the Novel Coronavirus (CoVid-19) outbreak in China and other countries such as Japan, South Korea, Iran and Italy, without any sense of regard to not only Philippines-China relations but also to the welfare and safety of Chinese Filipinos, who are surely the first ones to suffer in any untoward incident caused by xenophbia and racism instead of the Mainland Chinese nationals.

To start with, I do not understand where the opinions of some "analysts" that the Philippines-United States relations will be damaged by the abrogation of the VFA were based from. To start with, the 1951 United States-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are still intact. Second, United States President Donald Trump seems to be agree with President Duterte on the idea of abrogating the VFA since doing so will enable the American government "to save millions of dollars in taxpayer money" instead of using it to finance foreign deployment of its military. Third, the representatives of both the Philippines and the United States are working on a new agreement that will replace the VFA, which I hope will satisfy the interests of both countries instead of being a one-way deal. There is really no damage in relations between the two countries, which goes in contrast with the "expert opinions" coming from some "analysts."

Second, similar to the Marxists-Leninists-Maoists from the University of the Philippines and other entities who are stuck in the First Quarter Storm era and the 1960's and believe that leftism is going to work in this day and age, the pro-Western Filipino "nationalists" and some "analysts" are stuck in the Cold War era with them pushing for the Philippines to stay within the Western sphere of influence even if it goes in contrast with national interests and allows Westerners to even meddle in the country's internal affairs. They still operate on a bipolar world, where the United States and the rest of the West are the "good guys" while Russia, china and others that belong to the East are "evil incarnate." They ignore the fact that the Iron Curtain already collapsed in 1991, that Russia is not a Communist country anymore and that China is now more capitalist than Maoist, thanks to economic and political reforms implemented by Deng Xiaoping. Their insistence on the Philippines building an alliance with the United States and other "friendly" countries that are once identified with the Western sphere of influence is a product of Cold War thinking that is not only outdated but is counterproductive to the present and future needs and interests of the Philippines as an independent and sovereign republic.

Instead of going for alliances, the Philippines should adopt what Singapore did and is still doing, which is pursuing partnerships with other countries. As a small country that is strategically located at the Malacca Strait but lacks natural resources and is sandwich between two larger countries in Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore has always put emphasis on national survival as the central theme of its political and economic policies. It is for this reason that instead of completely aligning itself with the United Kingdom, its former colonial master, and the rest of the West through the formation of alliances, it pragmatically pursued partnerships with several countries to meet its military and economic interests.

During its infancy as a nation, Singapore partnered with Israel in building and training its armed forces. The reason for this is the shared vision that the Singaporeans and the Israelis have, which is the need to survive as a nation and as a people. With the help of the Israelis, the Singaporeans have one of the most modern and most capable armed forces in the western Pacific.

On top of the partnership with Israel, Singapore also pursued defense-related ties with the United states, Australia and France. Instead of signing a treaty similar to what the Philippines has with the United States, what Singapore did was to simply sign a generic agreement that allowed the Singapore Armed Forces to use some facilities in the three countries for training and development and as temporary bases for aircraft and vehicles. In exchange, American, French and Australian troops can also visit and train alongside their counterparts in Singapore but without any special privilege or exemption, making them subject to the host country's laws, rules and regulations. Such partnerships enabled Singapore and its counterparts to mutually gain in terms of their respective defense-related interests.

In terms of economics, Singapore entered to free trade agreements (FTAs) with multiple countries and entities, including non-Western actors such as China, and Russia and other member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), to increase markets for Singaporean exports and destination for Singaporean enterprises. At the same time, Singapore's foreign direct investment (FDI)-friendly policies enabled its trade partners to do business with ease in the country. Such move benefited and continues to benefit Singapore and its partners.

With President Duterte emphasizing the need to pursue an independent foreign policy, it is time for the Philippines to do away with the Cold War-era mentality of building alliances with a few and instead seek partnerships with many. It is through partnerships, not alliances, that will help the Philippines stand on its own in rebuilding and constantly evolving its the strength of its military and economy. It is also through partnerships that Filipinos are going to learn the value of standing on their own feet, for they cannot rely on anyone but themselves, with the help of partners who can help them do that. It is also through partnerships that the Philippines will be able to create and maintain its position among the family of nations, one where it is going to be worthy of respect and be treated as an equal by everyone, including the superpowers.

Alongside the need to pursue economic partnerships is the need to finally implement long overdue reform measures that will open the Philippines to more FDIs. The pursuit of partnerships Is going to be an exercise in futility if the pro-oligarch and pro-Marxist/Leninist/Maoist 1987 Constitution, the root cause of the limiting of the Philippines’ growth and success potential, and denial of the spread of economic development and prosperity to all corners of the country, is going to remain in place, hence the need to completely replace it with one that can help realize the economic development success potential and prosperity goals of the nation, aside from having a system of government and bureaucracy that complements such goals and the economic partnerships to be pursued. It has been nearly four years since President Duterte promised to implement economic reforms, but, so far, progress is too slow, no thanks to some economic managers who want to play safe and have the tendency to rest on their laurels, and the constant lobbying of personalities and entities that want the Manila-centric political and economic status quo to remain.

It is through the leadership and independent foreign policy of President Duterte that this paradigm shift from seeking alliances to pursuing partnerships with countries can become possible. Should he be able to succeed, the gains should be sustained from 2022 and beyond. Hopefully, his successor as President of the Philippines will be some who sees the value of partnerships rather than alliances, opting to continue his policies and adding on what were already gained along the way.

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About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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