I do not at all wonder, and no one else should, why President Duterte has been talking of an “independent foreign policy.” What puzzles me, as it should everybody else, is why neither he nor his foreign secretary,
Perfecto Yasay Jr., has said how the government intends to carry it out. By asking the US forces in Mindanao to leave? By dismantling the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US? By buying weapons from China and Russia? Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to throw in his two cents’ worth.
Section 7 of Article II—Declaration of Principles and State Policies—-is clear: “The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In relations with other states the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.” Each of the four phrases is known, if vaguely, to the average citizen. Otherwise the Constitution and the spirit of our laws make them plain.
“The Philippines is a democratic and republican state,” says the first section of Article II. “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”
National territory is that over which we exercise jurisdiction and control, and whose borders no state should try to change or promote secessionism within.
National interest , or “raison d’Etat” (reason of State) to the French, has a long history that evolved from the 1648 Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years War. We know it as our own political, economic, military and cultural goals and ambitions as distinguished from those of our closest friends and allies.
Self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law, which grew out of Woodrow Wilson’s famous “Fourteen Points” of January 8, 1918, and the Atlantic Charter signed between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in 1941. Under this principle, we are free to choose our own sovereignty and international political status, with no interference from any power.
What does it mean?
DU30 has proclaimed his desire to pursue an “independent foreign policy,” but has yet to pronounce what he means. Does “independent” mean renouncing any security alliance with our current major ally? If so, this would mean scrapping the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US, the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and possibly pursuing a policy of neutrality like the Vatican or Switzerland.
Some commentators have suggested that scrapping EDCA would cut “the umbilical cord” that ties the Philippines (militarily) to the US. This seems to misunderstand the limited complex of our treaty arrangements. The EDCA is not the “umbilical cord.” The “umbilical cord” is the MDT, of which the VFA is an implementing agreement, and the EDCA (according to the funny decision of the Supreme Court) another implementing agreement. Worth noting is the fact that even after the expiration of our military bases agreement in 1991, we maintained the MDT, which guarantees mutual defense in case either party is attacked in the Pacific.
Can DU30 afford to cut this cord just because the outgoing President Obama had wanted to talk to him about his human rights record?
DU30 won’t do it
My personal reading is that regardless of everything he has said, and can still say about Obama or the US, DU30 is not prepared to go that far. For me, he does not have to threaten to remove the US forces in Mindanao to show his “independent” posture. All he has to do is serve official notice to the US that effective immediately the government is doing to implement Sec. 8, Article II of the Constitution, which provides that “the Philippines, consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.” Then all the nuclear-powered US vessels will no longer be able to enter Philippine waters, nor nuclear-armed aircraft land in the Philippines. And he can demand the right to make sure that the US has not built silos anywhere for the stockpiling of nuclear weapons.
Beyond that, DU30 could instruct Yasay to communicate to the State Department that his government will consider it a hostile act should the US government ever try to impose population control on the Filipinos,
through state contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage and related measures. If DU30 can do all this, there would be no further need for him to demonstrate his “independent” foreign policy posture. He does not have to choose between the US and a rival military power, he only has to choose between the Constitution and the interests of an outside power.
Alternatively, does an “independent” foreign policy require simultaneous and concurrent security and military alliances with all the competing powers—-the US, China, Russia and whoever else wants to qualify? Neither in theory nor in practice does this seem workable. But some people seem to believe that DU30’s announced plan to buy arms and other military equipment from China and Russia is a step in that direction. Is that, in fact, a step in the right direction?
A few days ago, DU30 said he wanted to see the US forces out of Mindanao. The CPP/NPA/NDF quickly followed by calling for the expulsion of all US forces not just in Mindanao but throughout the Philippines. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, however, was equally quick to contradict DU30’s statement that the US forces constituted high-value targets for Islamic terrorists, especially after DU30 reawakened the Moros’ long-sleeping memories about the Bud Dajo massacre of the Tausugs by the US Army in 1906.
And now we read the Department of National Defense saying the US forces will not be asked to leave Mindanao. This may or may not be the decision, but what does this statement do to the credibility of the President? It is absurd to see the President being publicly overruled by his own appointee on something where he had staked his honor.
Lorenzana may be right, and DU30 wrong about the US presence in Mindanao. But Lorenzana has no right to contradict DU30 openly, unless with his statement he is also irrevocably resigning his position. Since DU30 had made the first statement about asking the US forces to leave Mindanao, he should have corrected himself publicly, rather than allow Lorenzana to publicly correct him.
Is Lorenzana now in charge?
Does Lorenzana now have such power? Is he now in command and control? This is not a minor matter. It is what’s being whispered about in various camps, across the rank and file of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and in the bureaucracy as well.
The principal error lies in conducting policy through the media or microphone, without the benefit of prior official thinking and deliberation. DU30 tends to think aloud too much; and because of poorly organized rules of engagement, even his “asides” and “levities” are carried by the media as official policy statements.
A decision to ask US troops to leave Mindanao or any part of the country need not provoke any undue speculation if it had been deliberated upon by the appropriate authorities and communicated to the US government first before the President publicly talked about it to any group or the press.
Following past precedents
Many similar decisions were made during the term of the 1947 US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement, without provoking any undue concern or speculation that the government was preparing to abrogate it. In 1966, the 99-year lease term was abbreviated to the next 25 years of the unexpired period. Then the bases were renamed Philippine military bases under the sole command of a Filipino commander, with the Philippine flag alone flying over the base lands. Then the US was obliged to provide compensation through its Economic Support Fund, despite the “rent-free” provision of the agreement.
What happened in DU30’s case was that he was again shooting from the lip and telling the public and the press something that involved the US government without first talking to that government. This is something so basic that unless one talks in his sleep, there should be no chance of committing this mistake.
Now, DU30 has announced that in order to modernize the Armed Forces he’s thinking of buying arms and munitions from China and Russia, where they are said to be much cheaper than in the US and allied sources.
Cheaper cost seems to be a good reason to diversify the sources of our arms acquisitions, but the issue is not as simple as it appears. Modernizing an army is more than a question of cost.
I was in a forum with former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday, and the country’s longest serving defense minister had a few interesting things to say about the proposed suppliers shift. First, since most if not all of our military supplies until now have been sourced from the US, what happens to our existing inventory when we decide to purchase our weapons and supplies from these new sources? Would everything we have now be retired? What would be the cost implication of that?
And what happens to the concept of inter-operability, so highly valued by military authorities and experts, when we decide to use weapons from mixed sources? Will this really modernize our armed forces, or will we simply follow the path of those who have done the same thing before to their eternal regret? In what way will a decision to replace an old military alliance with the US, with a new alliance with China and Russia, promote DU30’s desired “independence”?
DU30’s troubles have just begun
There seem to be more questions than answers about this now. But if this new matter was meant to divert public attention from the drug killings that had put DU30 in the eye of the storm, it has not succeeded at all. The attention of the Western press has not waned, more foreign dignitaries are speaking out, and in the Senate, where the inquiry on the drug killings continues, a witness yesterday tried to link DU30 to previous killing of Muslims in Davao.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson succeeded in plugging holes into the witness’ testimony. But anyone looking at the dotted lines connecting DU30’s statement about Obama, Ban Ki-moon, etc. in relation to the drug killings, and his statement about excluding US forces from Mindanao and purchasing arms from Beijing and Moscow should be able to see that DU30’s problems have just begun.