Skewed foreign policy
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (The Freeman) - August 16, 2020 - 12:00am

It is a statement of principle in our constitution that our country is to pursue an independent foreign policy. When this was written into our 1987 fundamental law, the prevailing perception was that our international relation was more pro-American stance than independent. Our 1986 Constitutional Commission thought that by making independent foreign policy a constitutional provision, our policy makers would wade our country in foreign relations with the best interest of the Filipinos as the highest goal. Truly independent even of our past preferential treatment of USA.

We, of course, are not blind to the fact that as early as the late 1960s and in the 1970s, we began to shed our color as little brown Americans. In those years, we started negotiating the status of the Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay Naval Base, reportedly the biggest American military installations outside mainland USA. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo which actually drove the US forces from our shores mooted the negotiations. But, that we commenced, decades back, the steps towards standing on our own as a free country served as philosophical foundation for our charter framers to prescribe the formulation of an independent foreign policy as a free and sovereign state.

The principles and policies written in our constitution are for our executive and legislative departments to craft and pursue. Along that direction, our initial stride was to kick the American military forces from our land with the combined executive-legislative impromptur. This happened under the administration of President Corazon Aquino. The legislature was headed by then Senate President Jovito Salonga. In recent times, when the Peoples’ Republic of China drew the nine-dash line which seemed to encompass portions of Philippine territory as part of China, a free and independent Philippines, under the leadership of President Benigno Aquino III, brought before the International Arbitral Tribunal a case to uphold our territorial integrity against the Chinese maladventurism.

In probable pursuit of a new independent foreign policy, our country under President Rodrigo Duterte took our proverbial sail from its mast in so far as our territorial sovereignty over the islands in the West Philippine Sea is concerned. Instead of exploring all possible international assistance to force China to respect the ruling of the Arbitral tribunal in favor of the Philippines, he tolerated the Chinese to intrude into our territory and establish its military installations. We did not feel violated by the Chinese incursion into our territory. The least that we could have done was to file a diplomatic protest but we refused to take even that normal action. What new foreign relations policy!

I have to press that issue in the light of a recent transnational event. A newspaper in Thailand reported that a huge number of Filipinos arrived in Bangkok. The lead story mentioned that the Filipinos came from “the land of COVID”. Obviously, the Thai paper took note that the Philippines registered the highest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia. By golly, we were infuriated by the embarrassing description. Our name, as a free and independent nation, was assaulted by an instrument of another country and our honor was tarnished. Immediately, our Department of Foreign Affairs raised a kind of howl, not entirely dissimilar to a diplomatic protest.

My point is: the pursuit of our foreign relations policy under this Duterte administration, based on these two incidents, is more skewed and unclear than free.

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