Our foreign policy muddle



The main problem is not malice but ignorance

Erratic and disjointed presidential sound bites now rule the nation, so we need to be more deliberate and discriminating. The mass media, in particular, have a special duty to first understand what President Rodrigo Duterte is saying before quoting him. They must understand not only the meaning and context of his words but also the logic and validity of his assertions. Radio and television, when broadcasting his talks live, should always put everything in context after airing his statement.

This is especially necessary, in the area of foreign affairs, which seems foreign to most everyone. The media should help prevent confusion, and save the President from needless criticism. This demands greater competence among journalists and broadcasters, but this is the first requirement in any profession.

The EDCA controversy

Consider what DU30 said on the withdrawal of American troops from Mindanao and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. At first, he said he wanted the US troops out, without disturbing EDCA, which authorizes the stationing of the troops inside Philippine bases. Then he said he wanted to see the agreement reviewed, a couple of weeks or so later.

On both occasions, he was clearly thinking aloud, but the media mechanically reported what he said, without cursory analysis or explanation. The result was general confusion.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana countermanded the President by saying the US troops would remain in Mindanao. Then Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said there would be no need to review EDCA because the Supreme Court had already ruled it was constitutional. This was the first time in the nation’s history that two senior Cabinet members publicly overruled the President and Commander-in-Chief on an important national security issue, without said Cabinet members resigning or being asked to resign.

In both instances, it was obvious the President had made an unfortunate misstatement, which needed to be refined; but it should have been done without causing him any undue “loss of face.” Instead of Lorenzana correcting the President, the latter should have amended his own statement, by saying that upon the recommendation of the security sector he was temporarily changing his position in favor of the US troops. No further explanation was needed.

Did Aquino sign the agreement?

With respect to EDCA, Yasay should have exerted greater effort to minimize the effect of DU30’s statement that the 2014 agreement was flawed because it did not bear the signature of the President of the Philippines. This was an obvious error, known to anyone who has heard of the Vienna Convention on Treaties. The President does not have to sign international agreements or treaties; lower officials are allowed to do so by investing them with “full powers” from the President.

Who signed the MBA, MDT, VFA?

In fact, the 1966 agreement shortening the 99-year lease term of the 1947 Philippine-US Military Bases Agreement to the next 25 years was signed only by US Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Philippine Foreign Secretary Narciso Ramos.

The Mutual Defense Treaty of Aug. 13, 1951—the core treaty governing Philippine-American security relations—was signed by Carlos P. Romulo, Joaquin Elizalde, Vicente J. Francisco and Diosdado Macapagal for the Philippines and by Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, Tom Conally and Alexander Wiley for the US.
And the Visiting Forces Agreement, an implementing treaty of the MDT, was signed by Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr. and US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard in 1998.

Yasay could have simply said that DU30 strongly believed BS Aquino 3rd should have personally signed EDCA since he had decided it should be a mere executive agreement rather than a treaty requiring the concurrence of the Senate. After all, President Manuel A. Roxas signed the 1947 Military Bases Agreement and the Military Assistance Agreement with US Ambassador Paul V. McNutt. This would have introduced a new perspective to DU30’s statement, and saved him from so much unnecessary embarrassment.

Yasay’s rebuke

But Yasay chose to rebuke the President and expose him to ridicule when he said the Supreme Court ruling, which many lawyers scoff at, had rendered the proposed review unnecessary. He could have saved DU30 from his unfortunate slip, knowing that the President needed no legal excuse to subject EDCA to a review, anytime he wanted to do so. That is his prerogative. In fact, the agreement’s termination clause gives him the power to terminate the agreement upon one year’s notice. But it goes without saying that termination has to be based on a sound and objective assessment of the national interest, not on anything occasioned by a bout of foul language or the mere absence of the past President’s signature on the document.

Instead of making it appear that DU30 did not know what he was talking about, Yasay could have said that, because of certain intricate issues involved, the President has decided to hold his intended review of EDCA “under advisement.” This is close enough to gobbledygook, but it would have made it clear that the President was still in charge. Since it was the President who first talked about a review, he should also be the one to talk about not pushing through with it, rather than his foreign secretary, who is only his alter ego.

The use of language

There is no suggestion here of malice on the part of Yasay, but it seems he needs to show a little more competence, if one may be so blunt. Language is the soul of diplomacy: although he is nowhere near DU30’s grade in the use of language, he ought to have a better mastery of it.

In all this, the press had a major role to play. Albert Camus’ advice is worth its weight in gold: “Do not quote without judging.” The “honest error” by a totally spontaneous President was needlessly magnified by the less than competent reporting in the mainstream press. In the first instance, the press failed to point out that since the US troops were stationed in Mindanao under EDCA, they could not be pulled out except by mutual agreement between the two governments, or without first modifying the terms of the existing agreement.

But since DU30 had no plans of disturbing EDCA, then it means he could not implement the US pullout or he really had no serious plans of demanding such a pullout. Had the media made this clear, there would have been no need to hear from Lorenzana.

In the second instance, the press failed to supply the ready information that DU30 did not have under his thinking cap when he said the EDCA was flawed because his predecessor had failed to sign it. DU30 was misled into thinking that the signatures of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, on behalf of the Philippine government, and Ambassador Philip Goldberg, on behalf of the US, were not enough to validate the agreement.

No one tried to point out that under the Vienna Convention on Treaties they were authorized to represent their respective governments upon instructions of their Presidents. And no one bothered to find out if Aquino had signed the ratification of the agreement, which, in fact, he had. They apparently presumed that the agreement was never ratified because it was not coursed through the Senate.

Until now, most, if not all, of our newspapers, refer to the “ratification” of international agreements and treaties as a function and proceeding of the Senate. Thus, some of them say EDCA should have been “ratified” by the Senate. I maintain that, contrary to the Supreme Court ruling, EDCA should have been submitted to, and approved by, the Senate, pursuant to the clear language of the Constitution, which the High Court inexcusably misread. The result would have been a more stable agreement, not subject to the whimsies of a temperamental President.

But “ratification” is not the term for it. It is the Chief Executive that “ratifies” international agreements and treaties; the Senate merely “concurs” in the process.

The drive toward independence

The EDCA issue goes into the heart of our security alliance with the US, and DU30’s desire to forge an “independent” foreign policy for his government. DU30 needs to define these two concepts with sufficient clarity, and the press, instead of merely quoting the President, can and should help clarify what he says. Neither the one nor the other is doing that right now.

DU30’s apparent grievance against the US has nothing to do with its performance as a security, economic and political partner of the Philippines, but appears to be caused by the US government’s failure to turn a blind eye on the summary killing of suspects in his current war on drugs, and his use of vulgar and offensive speech as the lingua franca of his presidency, and as a political tool to humiliate and terrorize dissenters and critics.

He seeks to advance his avowed pursuit of an “independent” foreign policy by attacking Barack Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and flashing the middle finger at the European Union in response to their criticism of the drug killings, and by speaking fondly of China and Russia, and the “high respect” he is allegedly getting from their leaders. But not everyone sees in this a drive toward independence; many rather see in it an attempt to replace an existing alliance with a world power with a new alliance with an emerging power.
What kind of independence?

This is not the “independent” foreign policy posture we’re looking forward to. We want to see the country on friendly terms with all the major powers, but dependent on none. If it has been a mistake to pivot toward America until now, would this be corrected by pivoting toward China and Russia? This is what DU30 must explain to our people. The Cabinet and the media must help.

Unfortunately, DU30 is the only one we hear.

Attended by a Mindanao-based Cabinet whose members are mostly from Davao, and from the law college in Manila where he had studied law as a young man, DU30 has managed to gather together a group of men and women with virtually zero experience in their respective fields of assignment; a couple of notable exceptions prove the rule. Even his communist appointees, whom even non-communists and anti-communists were expecting to perform, have failed to deliver. He and the nation deserve something better, and that may be long in coming.

In the beginning, any criticism of the man and what he says was quickly drowned by the thunderous applause from his supporters. After only three months in office, his alleged 91 percent approval rating is reported to have plunged to 64 percent, and roar of the next thunder from the ground may no longer be one of approval but one of disgruntlement and disapproval. Very few will accuse DU30 and his people of deliberate malice, but lack of competence, if not downright ignorance, in domestic as well as in foreign affairs, could take us to the point of no return.



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  1. Daylinda Dagondon on

    Among the many comments here I find that of Mr. Stuart the most enlightened.

    To those who criticize President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, what solution do they suggest? Leave the drug-lords and pushers alone? Bring them to court and wait an eternity for the cases to be settled? In the meantime what do we get after a year – zombies roaming our streets, sons hammering or hacking their fathers to death, mothers killing their children looking to them like devils, sons raping their sisters or grandmothers? If our problem were in the United States, or Europe, their leaders would surely think differently.

    By what I read about Duterte telling the Americans in Zamboanga to go home, it was an ADVICE and not an order because he thought that their lives are in danger from angry Muslims.

  2. I think du30 should stop playing his macho dumb image and his foul mouth. He may wants to project power , fierceness: and that is somewhat needed to discipline mostly hardheaded filipinos, but, i believe words showing intellect, wisdom, knowing what you are saying, is the best to represent the presidency and the filipinos as nation.

  3. HitlerDU30, his foreign policies are muddled & unpredictable. More often than not he does not know what he is talking about. What he knows as former Davao City Mayor for 22++years is “peace & order”. Period. In one of his Sunday’s TV programs back then, he said the ff: “As long as I have the control of the Dept of Finance, the PNP & AFP, you can have the other departments.” He sees things/events in his own biased perception not how they are, as is. He hears but does not listen intently. He criticizes but does not want to be criticized. His strategy when criticized is: “Offense is the best defense”.

  4. kung ako si ka digong, kukunin kong adviser din si ka kit tatad para maplantsa ang mga gusot sa international relations. safe sya, walang yellow fever. yun ang alam ko. he he he he.

    kung ako si ka digong, ang mga papuri ay hindi ko ilalagay sa aking utak. baka kasi ako maging complacent o mayabang. kung ako si ka digong, ang mga puna at pula ay hindi ko ilalagay sa aking puso. kailangan nya ang mga criticisim, constructive kung maaari.

    kaso, hindi naman ako si ka digong.

  5. I suspect this is a will written script from somebody. I am wondering if there is somebody who stand to benefit
    from dumping western alliances in favor of untested new partners.

  6. Truly speaking I cannot catch the logic of Duterte when he says Independent Foreign policy and putting aside America and leaning over China and Russia. Is this what he called INDEPENDENT FOREIGN POLICY?
    He hates America in the sense that he has communist ideology from the very start.
    This is all because of his war on drugs.The President intention is one of the noblest ,but no matter how noblest the intention is ; if it violates the rule of law on how to get the noble intention is not acceptable in a democratic country..
    The people now realized that the remedy is worse than the disease.There must be no departure from the words of the law.

  7. sir tatad,it seems to me your numbers are misleading,91 pct poll is from another survey,64 is from another,latest as of yesterdays poll 74 or 76 reflects his approval rating,pls be fair,hence you might be accuse of deliberate malice..

  8. Samuel Abiertos on

    The problem, Kit, is that many Filipino journalists let loose by publishers on the public sphere don’t have the intellect and depth of understanding that you have been long known to possess. Worse, a good number of them color their news stories strictly according to the publisher’s political agenda and business interests. May their tribe decrease and yours, hold fast despite the odds.

  9. Very sell said Mr Tatad . Indeed beyond the headlines and sensationalism the most striking feature of this Government so far is its amazing level of ignorance which is being masked by braggadocio and chest thumping .

  10. Bert O. Romero on

    1. Be a friend to every nation and an enemy to none. This could be the formula , as enunciated by Mr. Tatad, that defines what ” an independent foreign policy ” should be. He indeed deserves to be a foreign affairs secretary.
    2. The anti- American tirades of Mr. Duterte at this time when the US is generally considered the only remaining standing global hegemon while trying to play the discarded Russia -China cards are ill timed. Militarily, economically, epolitically, diplomatically, technologically, and other dimensions of international relations show that the US is far ahead of China and Russia which are both currently suffering from sluggish economic growth. While the US is a global power, China is merely an aspiring regional power while Russia is dreaming to recoup it’s lost glory.
    3. The Philippines has shown its own worth in the international community as a sovereign and independent state and has gone a long way from the little brown brother days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We have since moved on from the Balangiga massacre infamy to the American tutelage in democracy to special relations to an ally in the Cold War to a self-respecting emerging economy in Southeast Asia! We went through this journey without unduly rocking the regional boat and being seen as a nation with a crass , uncouth and foul-mouthed leadership.
    4. The phrase ” full powers” seems to have eluded the current wards of Malacanang and DFA in explaining it doesn’t have to be the President to sign treaties and executive agreements to make them valid. And to think that both institutions are headed by lawyers who are surrounded by a phalanx of legal minds. It is ironical that it would take a non- lawyer, Mr. Tatad, to point out the efficacy of the concept of full powers. As President Truman said, ” Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers “.

  11. DU30 is not only foul mouth but he is trying to get America to cancel the money that they are providing us which would help our poor and for infrastructure projects. If he thinks China can be expected to provide all that then I wish him all the luck but what the hell is wrong with keeping his mouth shut and likely stop the bleeding. Obviously he has highhopes of China and to a lesser extent Russia who has had financial problems to come thru and give us the aid that America was going to give but is now holding because he is sick of DU30. This communist is now really showing his true colors and if he wants to buy military supplies from China and Russia then I hope he knows that they are not compatible with our current equipment

  12. Mr. Tatad I agree almost ninety percent but to blame the media by not delivering Du30 message is a fallacy why? at the outset, Du30 himself when he assumed the presidency had the gall to announce that he does not need the media in general. He has his own media! Why blame your colleagues now?

  13. My opinion, this guy is a loose cannon. You cannot blame his staff because it is virtually impossible to read between the lines. This guy must surely know that this country is very poor, very uneducated, very corrupt, very dirty, foul mouth like him. Nobody , nobody can change this stupid drug craze 2 million addicts and 16 million stupid voters.

  14. I am an American. I’ve been to the Philippines but have not lived there.

    In regards to your president. I am 61 years old. If someone had shot the drug dealers in 1964 I can only think of how many lives might have been saved in my country. How many crimes that would not have been committed.

    Stand your ground. A lot of Americans despite the bias of our press support you. It is the only way to get the drug cancer out of any society. Take you program and bring it to America.

    • sir,can you imagine mayor duterte of chicago? sure i can ,southside will probably become the most peaceful place in cook county,

    • Most Americans with Filipino blood lines have the same concerns , the drug menace must be neutralized and only PDU30 has taken the challenge ….. no other president except Marcos…… if Trump wins , perhaps he will do the same ;

    • On the Internet anyone can say he is American, but it’s beside the point. This article is about foreign police. The criticism issues is not being against death penalty for drug dealers. Your comment is a red herring. The issue is about proving in a court of law that a person is guilty. And the President has made death threats against drug users and others who have opposed his policies.

  15. teodoro m reynoso on

    Shooting from the hips with one’s mouth or a case of foot on mouth disease. Just asking.

  16. Mr. Tatad, what you are proving here is that we have a bunch of IGNORAMUSES both in the government and in the press!!!

    How did we get into this mess?

    I think that Duterte should watch out for his mouth or the press should just entirely IGNORE him. Let us see what happens. Duterte has unnecessarily gotten so much bad publicity to our country which we DO NOT NEED.