Philippine Ambassadors’ Foundation Inc (PAFI) Concluding part
The crafting of Philippine foreign policy on Sabah, the West Philippine Sea and on the US pivot, and the drafting of a strategy to implement that policy is bedeviled by demons of serendipity, timidity and inconsistency.
We are blessed, or cursed, that we have a seeming gift for finding good things accidentally. In Sabah, we are lucky that things seem to have quitted. In the West Philippine Sea, we have so far avoided major confrontation at sea, these occur only in microphones and press releases. The US pivot in Asia has just begun in the Philippines and there is still time to map a diplomat roadmap to meet the new development.
We can no longer rely on serendipity. ad noc arrangement are mere palliatives. Pursue the claim to Sabah protect our remaining territories and maritime jurisdiction from the Chinese “cabbage” through our acts of “effectivities”. Take on Taiwan for what it is a province of China and a surrogate of US policy in Asia. We should prepare for the US pivot, which will impact on Philippine-China relations and on the security architecture of Asia- Pacific. There is no substitute to a well defined and clear foreign policy and an alert and agile diplomacy to implement the policy.
We allowed Malaysia to take dominant control over the “intrusion” by the Sultan’s “Royal Army” in Sabah. We were ignored and humiliated as we plod to find a solution to the “impasse” and we failed to protect adequately our nationals and their rights in Sabah. If we remain silent, and docile, and timid on the issue, we will really lose Sabah forever without getting any strategic space for our other national interests.
China is exercising “effectivities” in South China Sea in the same manner as what Malaysia is doing in Sabah. We should counter these actions with our own exercise of “effectivities”. We should avoid a growing feeling of defeatism and helplessness at the current state of our military by our aggressive and strong diplomacy. We should pursue areas of cooperation while we assert and wait for the resolution of claims through the arbitral tribunal and other avenues.
The Visiting Forces Agreement should be renegotiated to meet the challenge of the US pivot to Asia. The pivot offers an opportunity for the Philippines to maximize the benefits of our “specials relations” with the US.
Implementing foreign policy requires coherent, agile and aggressive diplomacy. We should be clear on what we want others to support us and avoid confused and confusing statements which surprise the international community. Negotiations are better left in the private confines of the negotiating tables. Some words are better left unsaid, but if public diplomacy can not be avoided, this should not be left to the uninformed and uninitiated which usually results in a cacothony of conflicting voices.
Only the DFA should speak on foreign policy, and the president should be spared coming out with statements which will paint him into a corner, especially over intractable issues.
There is need to build the DFA as a strong institution which should provide continuity and consistency on foreign policy and withstand change of administration and proclivities of outgoing leaders. There is need to develop area and issue specialist; the era of the general utility diplomats is over. We need transformational men and women in the DFA and the Foreign Service who can weed out foreign assignments and promotions as priorities in their career. We should excise the biggest demon of all in the Foreign Service: the DFA is severely underresourced which hinder the effectivity of its men and women in the field.
The three pillars of Philippine foreign policy should be pursued with realism and pragmatism in an international community where nice talks about what is legal, moral, beautiful, and civilized often gives way to power and strength of geopolitics.
Success in diplomacy and negotiations does not come through a serendipitous walk through issues nor by being silent, timid, or inconsistent in the eyes of the other side.
Philippine diplomats should be warriors in protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, aggressive salesmen and entrepreneurs in promoting economic diplomacy and missionaries in protecting and promoting the welfare of overseas Filipinos. We need a strong and pro-active institution (read DFA and Foreign Service) to ward off demons of Philippine foreign policy and diplomacy.