Private think tank Stratbase-ADR Institute (ADRi) for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday warned that the Duterte administration’s “independent” foreign policy could derail its own 10-point economic agenda.
ADRi President Victor Andres Manhit said President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy is alienating major economic partners and creating an “unwelcoming” environment to foreign investors. This “independent” foreign policy seems to realign the Philippines’ friendships with other countries, Manhit said during an ADRi forum.
“While the President’s mandate to define the country’s approach to foreign relations is unassailable, the administration should nevertheless reconsider its strategy in terms of potentially alienating established economic and security partners,” he said.
Manhit said President Duterte has begun to chart a new foreign policy for the Philippines. Beyond the simple and independent stance, lies the complex dynamics that would directly and indirectly affect the administration’s objectives of national development. “Foremost amongst these objectives is the 10-point economic agenda which envisioned to transform the country into a true economic tiger and a force in the region,” he said.
Given this current foreign policy, the ADRi president noted the government’s 10-point economic agenda may be put at risk.
The ADRi president stressed that an unwelcoming atmosphere in the region would dampen the country’s economic relationship, noting that foreign investors skittish prospects on the Philippines is concerning.
“An unwelcoming atmosphere in the Philippines could easily dampen the country’s economic relationships. In the United States, as elsewhere, private investors have reportedly grown skittish about the Philippines’ prospects. The US economy is the Philippines’ largest source of private investment and second-largest export market after Japan,” he said.
“The Philippine international ties could have a very real impact on the country’s fundamental interest,” he added.
Manhit noted the health of the Philippine economy is not only in the hands of the country’s economic managers but also in the hands of investors, traders, entrepreneurs, businessmen as well as different agencies who manage very different portfolios such as energy, health, education and even foreign policy.
In line with this, he pointed out that instead of drastically changing its friendship form one country to another, the Philippines should maintain its good relations with trusted friends and pursues constructive relations with all of its neighbors, in both word and deed.
“The country can pursue independence without squandering its hard-earned relationships with other countries. The Philippines can keep its friends while making new ones,” he said.
Foreign policy should be guided by three principles. “First, a country’s approach must defend the country’s fundamental interests. These include the security and integrity of our territory, the health of our economy, and the protection of Filipino citizens abroad. Second, it must seek to achieve its goals while espousing national and universal values, such as upholding our commitments and complying with or enforcing international law,” Manhit said.
“Third, and important for a less-developed country, it must strive for all of the above in the most efficient or least costly manner,” he added.
Manhit said independence alone is not sufficient for a sound foreign policy.
Unfortunately, he said, in President Duterte’s case the term “independent” appears to be shorthand for pushing the United States away and pulling China closer.
The government’s new stance must be calibrated to ensure that it does not compromise the administration’s 10-point plan and the Philippines’ overall economic security, he said.
The ADRi chief said the government’s warming up with China signals a quick break from the United States and is unfortunate. “It is one thing for the administration to downplay the Arbitral Tribunal’s favorable ruling, out of a fear of possible retribution.
It is another thing entirely to halt patrols with the United States and limit them to a minimal 12 nautical mile distance—far less than the full 200 nautical mile spread of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone,” he said.
By taking such drastic steps, the administration gives the impression of swinging wildly and insincerely instead of taking smaller but more meaningful steps toward friendly relations, he added.
Manhit said being careful with pronouncements and calibrated with government actions will send a more meaningful signal not only to China, but also to all of the Philippines’ international partners. “Such care will help the president and his team achieve the Philippines’ foreign policy objectives,” he added.