The Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday denied that the Philippines will be “veering away” from its treaty commitments to the United States after President Rodrigo Duterte said he was about to cross the Rubicon as regards relations with Washington.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. told reporters the President might have made the remark on Monday “to dramatize what he feels are the areas that would need further strengthening” in terms of Philippines-US ties.
“I do not think personally that he meant it in the context of veering away from our commitments to the United States, particularly with our agreements and treaty, or with respect to the close and special relations that we have with the United States,” he said in Malacañang.
Duterte in a speech on Monday recounted his recent meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, saying: “I think I’m about to cross the Rubicon between me and the United States.”
He later clarified that his statement did not mean breaking ties with US, only that he would “open up alliances with China and Russia.”
Yasay reiterated that the President only wanted to pursue an independent foreign policy.
“In his administration, he wants to make sure that the relationship mandated by the Constitution insofar as carrying out an independent foreign policy, and at the same time pursuing amity with all nations, are complied with,” he said.
The Duterte administration aims to boost ties with China, which had “cooled off under the previous administration,” Yasay said, following an international arbitration case against Beijing that resulted in a legal victory for Manila over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“We have disputes with China insofar as the South China Sea is concerned. But this is not going to negate or prevent us from pursuing other aspects of our relationship, insofar as strengthening trade relationship, cultural ties, people-to-people connectivity, even infrastructure development,” the Cabinet official said.
‘Don’t be isolationist’
In Lingayen, Pangasinan, an expert on diplomacy called on the national leadership to adopt a foreign policy in which the Philippines would “co-exist and be friendly with all countries, regardless of ideology.”
Apolinario Lozada, a former lawmaker and permanent representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, told reporters diplomatic relations with other countries must, at all times, “be mutually beneficial, politically, economically and spiritually.”
Lozada, who headed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as representative of the fifth district of Negros Occidental, said that while the Constitution empowers the President to spell out the government’s foreign policy, such policy should take into account the welfare of the Filipino people.
He cited Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that the “Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality and justice.”
Article II, Section 7 also states that “national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and right to self-determination are of paramount consideration in our relations with other states.”
The three pillars of the country’s foreign policy, Lozada pointed out, were laid down by the Philippine Foreign Service Act of 1991: enhancement of national security, promotion and attainment of economic security and protection of the rights and welfare and interest of Filipinos overseas.
Noting that the country’s relations with the US had been mainly focused on security issues, Lozada said the Philippines needed to “refocus and look into the South China Sea issue” which “threatens our territorial integrity” and “weakens our relations with China.”
“The challenge for the Philippines is how to maintain an active and mutually beneficial defense alliance with the US while, at the same time, trying to get Philippines-China relations out of the ‘deep freeze’ that it has been mired in since 2012,” Lozada said.
Asked what steps should be taken to iron out the conflict, Lozada recommended initiatives toward strengthening trade ties with China.
He did not discount the possibility of joint oil exploration with China within the disputed territories.
Lozada also bared that an ad hoc group of experts on foreign relations had been formed and would start meeting this week to study “options and prerogatives” to bolster trade with China.