Two presidents and independent foreign policy

Two presidents and independent foreign policy Featured

AMONG the foreign policies that the Deegong adopted from his predecessor are the “Three Pillars”: preservation and enhancement of national security; protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare of overseas Filipinos; and promotion and attainment of economic security. Not mere motherhood avowals, previous administrations always operated on the overarching acquiescence to the nuances dictated by our close traditional ties with Mother America, though the same were unspoken. But this would soon change in the opening gambit of DU30’s regime; perhaps as a vehement reaction to outgoing United States president Barack Obama’s criticism of the drastic methods to stop the proliferation of illegal drugs.

The possible transformation of the country into a narcostate has always been the fear haunting the president. His singular desire to eradicate drug cartels, pushers and users inevitably resulted in a collateral issue of human rights transgressions; and focus on the latter is what pissed off PRRD. The Deegong’s personal distaste for Obama fed into his declared antipathy towards the US for some unspecified affront hardening what was already a complicated relationship. And PRRD’s personality and biases were the major impelling factors embodying the architecture of our independent foreign relations — masquerading as “national interest.”

Pivot away from America
And thus emerged DU30’s version of an “independent foreign policy,” a concept already enshrined in the Constitution, but now could be construed more as a pivot away from Mother America than towards any country or alignments. The Philippine-US bond has always been a “love-hate” one; a latent manifestation of intermittent neglect by America of its first colony. Perhaps America has taken its ties with its original protectorate for granted, confident in the fact that millions of Pinoys have emigrated to the US and millions more are either green card holders or temporary workers in the US or are the vilified tago nang tago (TNT or illegal workers).

Pivot to China and Russia
Touching a sensitive chord in the Filipino’s amor propio, this allowed him license to shift his sights towards the other suitors in the region — China and Russia — a nice touch as these were America’s global competitors. It was no less a maudlin and yet naively erotic performance when the Deegong in his attempt to cut our umbilical cord with America, declared pompously that it was a “triumvirate of the Philippines-China-Russia against the world,” or something to that effect.

The Yellows, of course, who had all along detested anything Dutertesque would consider such declaration as “kahilas,” meaning cringe-worthy in the Visayan vernacular, with China and Russia sheepishly humoring and playing along with this parvenu to international comportment. But many of the Filipinos were, in fact, singing the praises of the President for this perceived foreign relations coup. Yet, the dynamics of this emerging concept is still being delineated as a subtle shift away from a century-long ‘subservience’ to a treaty-bound America toward a “neutral” path.

But this “pivot” has dire consequences, particularly for China when we poked its eyes over our triumph at The Hague arbitral court, in effect negating their nine-dash line. But DU30 had to gamble and set aside this advantage for ambiguous gains in mendicancy for Chinese investments in infrastructure and long-term concessional loans. But as a matter of shame to some, the militarization and incorporation of the West Philippine (South China) Sea by China and the islands we claimed as ours will be on Duterte’s head and such dysfunctional and irreparable legacy will be a permanent blight to his name beyond his term into the next generations.

The genius of Trump
In retrospect, the Deegong’s choices may have been the right ones, considering America’s insufferably clueless President Donald Trump’s recent moves on Syria, Turkey and the Kurds. Trump unilaterally decided to pull out US forces ahead of a Turkish offensive into northern Syria in what was described by this megalomaniac as a “strategically brilliant move,” abandoning in the process the Kurdish militia, the US’ partner in that region in defeating the Islamic State. Trump did this without consulting the Pentagon and the State Department. This in turn creates a vacuum that could allow Turkey and Russia to partition the formerly US-protected Kurdish area.

All these as offshoots of presidential whim and caprice abruptly negating a five-year US policy. The United States will pay for this heavily in the future.

Lessons to learn
Looking back, DU30’s unilateral and personal decision to veer away from a historically deep-rooted partnership could be serendipitous as the US, with Trump as its president, is proving to be an unreliable ally. And this could be a lesson well worth learning in our engagements with the behemoths by our borders. The Philippines has always relied on our treaty with the US, more as a psychological security blanket than anything else. It should become obvious by now that America will not come to the aid of the Philippines, nor will it be forced to do so in hot conflicts. Under our treaty with the US, both are to come to each other’s aid when attacked. The Chinese are much too wily to cause a shooting war. Tragically, DU30’s pronouncements and body language have been translated as appeasement of China.

Worse, we may have inadvertently allowed China an opening and enabling it the use of China’s weapon of choice: slow strangulation of its neighbors by the application of its vaunted economic clout and bully tactics. We have today in the Philippines reportedly tens of thousands of Chinese immigrant workers flooding the country. Initially, they worked in the rapidly growing Philippine online gambling operations as online gambling is prohibited by the Chinese government. And this influx of Chinese in the service sector may begin to put a stress on government services and even the private sector. We are more attuned to sending out overseas Filipino workers to foreign lands than allowing migrant workers here in our midst. Already, there are reports of the arrest of Chinese syndicates (foreign and ingrown) running prostitution dens exclusive to Chinese migrant guests.

The question now is how we will navigate the rough global realities using our independent foreign policy to serve our national interest in light of China’s behavior and America’s unpredictability. The arbitral award we won is not recognized by China and the unilateral nine-dash line it imposed as historical fact is meant to be the impetus and triggering mechanism to usurp territories — by virtue of her might. And surely, we can’t ask the US — which must perforce look the other way — to fight our wars and regain Kalayaan in Palawan and the Pag-asa (Thitu) Island. It is not to their interest.

Which brings us to the core lesson. For our national interest, Duterte needs to understand that developing and adopting foreign policy or any policy for that matter needs a better collective appreciation of realities, not those solely emanating from one’s personal whims. A substantial part of good governance — the process of decision-making and implementation — must involve a coterie of professionals DU30 must recruit. And his job is to listen, absorb, discriminate, engage — then act.000
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