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Del Rosario: Duterte foreign policy 'off track'

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MANILA, Philippines -- The Duterte administration's independent foreign policy is "off track" and will need to be revisited or the Philippines may lose the confidence of long-time "friends" who assisted the country's development, a former top diplomat said.
 
On his first public comment on the matter, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the country's perceived pivot to China at the expense of ties with the US and the European Union (EU) will not work.
 
"I'd like to think that the foreign affairs strategy has driven off track a bit," Del Rosario said in an unscheduled speech on Wednesday.
 
"We need to revisit the off track direction that is driving the new so-called independent foreign policy," he said during the closing remarks of a forum hosted by his think tank, the Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies.
 
 
Del Rosario, who also worked as the country's ambassador to the US, relayed that he had been asked numerous times by members of the diplomatic community about the current administration's friendlier approach to China.
 
On top of that, he said the diplomatic corps do not understand why the Philippines is "suddenly distancing itself" from the US, its "treaty ally who has worked specifically on promoting the rule of law."
 
Del Rosario was Foreign Affairs secretary when the Philippines sued and won against China before the international arbitration court over China's nine-dash claim in the West Philippine Sea.
 
However, President Duterte decided to become more cordial to China, and not without putting Philippines' relations with the US in jeopardy over his harsh remarks even during the elections.
 
In his latest tirade, Duterte even claimed the US has manipulated the foreign exchange rate to weaken the peso to a seven-year low against the dollar. His Budget chief, Benjamin Diokno, has rebutted this.
 
"I think this foreign policy of equating US vis-a-vis China should not be a zero-sum game," he said.
 
"In foreign affairs, you try to get as many friends as possible. You don't get one friend at the expense of another friend. Playing a zero-sum game is illogical and we should get away from this," Del Rosario said.
 

'Economic repercussions'

"Our foreign policy is driven by our democratic ties. It must be principled, it must be independent, and it must follow the rule of law," he said.
 
Part of that is "respect for human rights," which is not only an "international norm" but is also a prerequisite for some of the development aid the Philippines gets from donors like the US. 
 
Del Rosario also questioned whether Duterte has discussed his foreign policy thrust thoroughly to touch on possible economic repercussions of moving away from the US and the EU.
 
For instance, he cited the $4 billion raised over the last three years as well as the $140 million in US military aid tied to a condition of respecting human rights.
 
On both the US and EU, Del Rosario cited the general system of preferences, where around $800 million of benefits had been recorded in terms of preferable access to trade.
 
 
"We will lose that," he said.
 
"I’m saying that... Has anyone in government sat down to calculate the probable loss of economic benefits if we pursue the foreign policy we are currently pursuing in the name of an independent foreign policy?" he said.
 
The former Foreign Affairs chief warned of a possible loss of confidence should the Duterte government pursue its current foreign policy tack.
 
"Confidence has been restored in our country in an immense amount. Let's not lose it," Del Rosario said.
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