• What are our foreign policy paradigms ? Probably nada

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    One positive thing that emerged within the first few months of the Duterte administration is this: a nation and a body politic forced to discuss foreign relations. As the nation debated on the proposed pivot to Russia and China – and away from our traditional allies – the issues and the positions raised were depressingly unenlightened. Mr. Duterte wanted to get the best of ideas, the most in-depth analysis of the issues. He got drivel.

    He probably announced the “separation” of the Philippines from the US, and the pivot to China and Russia, without a well-argued, well-written paper on that historic announcement. It was more gut feel than realistic rationale.

    It was very rare for our usually keyboard-happy public intellectuals to get muted by an issue. But on the proposed pivot, they did.

    For the first time, our mic-happy bloviators with the broadcast media, usually know-all types, avoided a really complex issue. The blowhards would not dare enter, intrude rather, into a policy territory where ad hominem does not apply. What can you expect of a telebabad culture that nurtures anti-intellectualism?

    From our political leaders, what we got was this: Is that to our national interest? They raised, naturally the peso and dollar angle. Pragmatic, yes, but hardly deep and profound.

    It is easy to talk about massive infrastructure build-up by China at the West Philippine Sea. Or, about fishermen being driven out of their traditional fishing grounds off Zambales. But it is quite hard to fathom the general motivation that drives China’s ruling princelings into their aggressive territorial ambitions.

    Was it merely for control over strategic shipping routes that handle $5 trillion worth of global trade a year? Or, is the driving force larger and more ambitious than control over very strategic sea lanes? Are its acts of aggression an intimation of China’s conquista – moving along parallel lines with Mr. Putin? On this, the usually voluble public intellectuals – who have yet to see a microphone they do not love – are uncharacteristically silent.

    Where have you gone Carlos P. Romulo? The nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Or, where have you gone Blas Ople? That a former stevedore like Ka Blas could better explain the world and geopolitics to us than most self-proclaimed public intellectuals of today forced me to borrow a question from Simon and Garfunkel.

    Indeed, where have you gone, Sage of Hagonoy?

    The Gary Johnson-like response, “What is Aleppo,” while not forgivable in the case of Johnson who is running for US president and who is presumed to be equipped with a basic knowledge of the world, is probably not the same case with most Filipinos, even its so-called or self-proclaimed public intellectuals. Having been a stagehand on the global stage from time immemorial, our cluelessness on foreign relations may be quite understandable. Our last perplexing foreign relations issue before the “ pivot” question under Mr. Duterte was the Sabah question.

    Even on the question of Sabah, a natural resource-rich territory which definitely belongs to us, the prevailing Philippine stand was one that vacillated between timidity and treason. The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, the owners of Sabah, could not even make a scholarly, expansive, persuasive disposition on why Sabah should revert to us – to the joy of Kuala Lumpur .

    The heirs showed deeds, payment of meager retainers, documents on the East India company. But the presentation of a paper on the long arc of history – and why Sabah should revert to us despite the vote of the populace to overwhelmingly stay with Malaysia – under the ambit of that long arc was missing.

    On the China issue, on why Mr. Duterte moved the country into its power orbit despite the territorial aggression, I kept searching for scholarly but reality-grounded papers on how the pivot to Beijing would serve our national interests. A paper that would show that China’s ruling princelings can mix a sense of pride and triumphalism to demonstrate benevolence, more so toward countries like us that have been their trading partners from time immemorial. And whose heroes (Rizal), cardinals (Sin) and presidents (the two Aquinos) partly carry their ethnicity.

    The fact that Mr. Duterte’s delegation to China was offered “megadeals” and generous loans was not a display of that benevolence. It was in keeping with China’s relations with the world (mostly business propositions), like the natural resources deals it had inked with resources-rich but poor African countries.

    And the cluelessness on our foreign relations extends to the overtures of Mr. Duterte toward Mr. Putin. Mr. Putin is a strongman presiding over a failed petrostate. From the decadence of the Romanovs to the unfulfilled utopian dream of the 1917 Bolsheviks, then to Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the humanity in Russia was found only in its literature, but was totally absent from its governing and civic culture.

    What Mr. Putin is doing to his political enemies is a reprise of the gulags and confinement in Siberia.

    We can’t put Mr. Duterte’s foreign policy shifts in the context of broad and superimposing needs because there is no scholarly tradition to go by.

    We are not even asking for intellectuals like George F. Kennan. We just need well-thought and well-written papers just like the stuff we see on the magazine Foreign Policy. Or the papers that emerge out of the think-tank Council on Foreign Relations.

    Alas we have none. On foreign policy paradigms, our possession of such is zero or lower.


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    1. Silverio Cabellon Jr on

      The Department of Foregin Affairs or the National Security Council should put forth the vision and the execution of the foreign policy of the Philippines and how its serves the national interest of the country.

    2. I just cannot see the logic in blaming US EU UN for the misfortune of this nation. Should we not blame ourselves for our misfortune ? As you can see, there are no more foreign aid for our typhoon affected people in the last 2 typhoons. He said we do not need any aid so they stop sending aid. Who lost ? Our own people. Was he affected ? Heck no. He still eats and live in a nice palace. We are at the height of hypocrisy. Stupid president is the result of stupid Pilipinos.

    3. A well thought out piece that the administration must consider. The general welfare of the nation is paramount and leaning towards China and Russia orbit is serious move that affects national security, economy, and PI’s alliance with the USA. The message is PI doesn’t need the USA anymore, Yankee go home punch in the face.
      Duterte should think before he speaks because he represents the country unless what he says is his personal opinion; however, his personal opinions must be kept to himself. His tough talks cause controversy and confusion to our friends and allies. A little humility and diplomatic finesse would be more productive and desirable.

      Is anyone from the administration reading the papers to know the concerns of the people? Or do they know it all they don’t need the input from anybody?

      Alliance with China and Russia: CAVEAT EMPTOR.

    4. Bonifacio Claudio on

      This is a shallow reading of PRRD’s mind… Du30 is taking all the blows now but in the end of his term, on the day of reckoning, someone unconventional having braved fighting the powers-that-be to right the “unrightable” wrong ”Did It His Way” for the love of country & its people… Let History have the final say.

    5. My question is, WHY? Didn’t we have the writings of Mabini, Recto, Romulo, and Agoncillo to serve as the basic guides in our foreign policy? Not to mention our Constitution. Then, it is high time…though truly late…to knock at doors of our luminaries (where are they, apart from Sen Santiago?) to really sit down and start their urgent assignment.

    6. Bert O. Romero on

      1. Even in the West, foreign policy is an issue usually foreign to the general population, sometimes even to the elite. This explains why presidential candidate George W. Bush couldn’t identify who Pakistan’s president was in 2008 or for that matter any of the then incumbent leader of an Asia-Pacific nation ! His embarrassing ordeal came to an end when he asked if the interview was for a current events contest.

      2. The Philippines became an American presidential issue in the 1900 presidential election , despite the fact that 92 percent of the American voters didn’t know where the Philippines was! The question then was what to do with the newly acquired Philippine territory: to annex it or let it go. Then incumbent president William McKinley who campaigned for annexation was reelected president. The rest was history: 48 years of tutelage in Hollywood.

      3. In the Cold War era ( 1947 – 1991 ), the Philippines was one among those countries which aligned themselves with the so-called Free World led by the US as opposed to those aligned with the Iron Curtain led by then the USSR , now Russia. In short , countries generally were either aligned or not, except for some which considered themselves belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement like India, Indonesia etc.

      4. In short, just like majority of the present-day Asia Pacific countries , the Philippines never had ” an independent foreign policy”. Hence, the Philippines sent troops to the Korean War (1950 -53), the Vietnam War which ended in March 1975 and hewed closely with American positions on various UN issues , just like many self respecting and sovereign states.

      5. The pursuit of ” an independent foreign policy ” became a national mantra under the Marcos administration when it was embodied in the 1973 constitution, without a clear – cut definition of what it meant. Did it finally mean severance from Uncle Sam’s apron string when the Philippines established diplomatic relations with the PROC in 1975 or was it merely following Uncle Sam’s footstep which normalized relations with Beijing two years earlier?

      6. With the end of the Cold War in 1989, was there really a need for any nation to be non- aligned? Non-aligned from what or who? In 1989, even the Non-Aligned Movement lost it’s reason for being !

      7. And so, when President Duterte announced in Beijing he wanted ” separation ” from the US in pursuit of an independent foreign policy , was there really a coherent , logical and rational justification for it? What in the first place did he mean? He said it did not mean severance of diplomatic relations; he said it did not entail cutting of economic , trade, investment and cultural ties. He explained what “separation” was not; the nation is still waiting what it was.

      8. Moreover, international politics , just like its domestic counterpart, is addition. Pivoting towards China , an aspiring regional power, and Russia , a has been power, should not mean separating the Philippines from the US, the only remaining proven and established global power ! Sheika Hashina of Bangladesh , during her recent visit to China, was able to obtain $85 billion worth of trade, investment, financial and military assistance , development projects and commitments for stronger and closer relations WITHOUT ” SEPARATING” Bangladesh from the US or India, another aspiring regional power.

      9. International relations is never a zero sum game. Forging closer friendship with one nation should not mean the loss of another . The Philippines should be a friend to everyone and an enemy to no one.