How to take our place on the world stage


The Philippines has hit the crossroads. As the 12th biggest country in the world population-wise, the 3rd biggest Christian nation, and the 39th biggest economy, it is now slowly making its way to the world stage.

Strategic location of a frontline state
Strategically located geophysically, it lies in the center of the East and West China Seas and has been dubbed the Pearl of the Orient. For this very reason the United States once made this country a garrison or frontline state which in the recent past provided berthing facilities for the mightiest armada the world – the 7th fleet and the largest airbase outside the continental USA. These facilities made this country the most forward position of the US defense system vis-à-vis the Chinese mainland.

Today our former colonizer hopes to pre-position its war materiel through a new defense agreement with this nation in order to contain the emerging dragon in North Asia which has extended her defense perimeter to cover West Philippine Sea islets claimed by this nation.

Promoting a balanced foreign policy
Against the unfolding scenario above how should this country position itself? Should it promote a diplomatic equilibrium or balanced international relations? Looking exclusively to the East means perpetuating our military alliance with the US under a mutual defense agreement, which is sui generis [in a class by itself, unique], and joining the band wagon of the US inspired Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. Looking to the West on the other hand means our delinking from historic military alliances and sailing with the rest of the Asean countries on the Chinese reconstructed silk route with its sweetener – the Chinese equitized Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank or AIIB plus the Chinese proposal for a multilaterally managed development of resources in the China Seas.

Creative diplomacy
Today policy makers seem to be wrestling with the horns of a dilemma. Should this country take on a hard stand vis-a-vis China using a unilateral track through legal arbitration or the multilateral track using creative diplomacy which necessarily requires negotiation? The fear among old allies is that these initiatives that begins with the adoption by this country of a zone of peace, progress and neutrality of the ZOPFAN model, is a slippery slope that can easily draw this nation into the vortex of a Chinese-led Southeast Asian Co-prosperity Sphere, a dream that the Japanese in World War Two could not accomplish by force of arms. They fear that this would knock the wind from the sails of the Obama pivot to Asia and the dilution of the US – led APEC initiatives in the region.

A false dilemma?
Some observers believe that by riding to horses this country will be split in the middle. This is a false dilemma. Promoting trade with both the east and the west is a win-win situation rather than a zero-sum game whereby one player will gain all at the expense of the other as in a beggar-my-neighbor policy regime. The case of the Galleon Trade of the past showed that the Chinese and the Mexicans mutually gained from the trilateral trade regime with this country benefiting substantially from its entrepot trade activity.

Indeed participating in regional arrangements like AEC, the US -inspired APEC and the Chinese promoted New Silk Route can only increase levels of productivity incomes and employment in the Asia-Pacific which is the best antidote to conflict and confrontation.

Vis pacis para bellum [If you want peace, prepare for war]
As this nation takes its seat in the community of nations, we will have to strengthen security arrangements in order to preserve the integrity of the archipelago and be ready to challenge all comers as we have done repeatedly in the history of this nation which has never been conquered. The victory of the Americans in Tirad Pass and the Japanese in Bataan and Corregidor were Pyrrhic victories that never resulted in the subjugation of our 7,000 islands.

The Spaniards never conquered with the sword but succeeded with the cross. The Americans failing to occupy all the islands co-opted the politically-entrenched economic elite which rule the country by proxy to this day. Will the Chinese without the use of force, conquer the nation? The answer is a categorical no, but our suspicion is that they will try to control the economy through their Binondo-based proxies and the Taipan community which has considerable investments in the Chinese mainland. This is not necessarily bad for a country which is trying very hard to attract foreign direct investment, to the extent that it is even contemplating revising the constitution to accommodate foreign direct investments.

To seek peace as the saying goes one must prepare for war. If the ragtag force of Aguinaldo slowed down the advance of the Americans all over the archipelago during the Fil-American war and the small USAFFE and ROTC pinned down the Japanese in Bataan and Corregidor for months, a citizen army of some three million trained ROTCs, properly equipped, will surely make it very costly for any invader. This will however require a realistic budget and the establishment of a military industrial complex which can embark on a progressive armaments manufacturing industry in the country. More importantly, this can finally end a culture of mendicancy which has encouraged the myth that our external defense will be taken care of by longtime allies.

A new National Security Act
National security is the task of the citizenry and cannot be left entirely to any administration. Security today encompasses military, economic, social and even political. A national security council must therefore include representation from the above sector and must meet regularly to assess security issues. A new National Security Act will be required to institutionalize participation of sectoral representatives and to craft a long term security strategy for the nation.

Jose V. Romero, PhD., is a professor at then University of Asia and the Pacific. He is the chairman of the Philippine Council on Foreign Relations. He has served as Philippine ambassador to Italy.


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  1. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers,New York
    30 September 2015

    Right now, viz-a-viz China, the Philippines is illustratively a puny Chihuahua compared to China which is an 800-pound gorilla.

    And that explains why it would be pure folly for the Philippines to ever agree to “bilateral talks or negotiations” with China on those disputed “maritime structures” in the Spratlys which the Philippines correctly asserts are parts of its territory under International Law [UNCLOS].

    The Philippines is fully aware of this discrepancy in size and power, which is why it has preferred to go to the UN Permanent Arbitral Tribunal on the Law of the Seas [ITLOS] for a peaceful, amicable, lawful and civilized Resolution of its territorial-dispute case against China. That is where it is pending right now, after the Philippines appeared before the Tribunal in “oral arguments” on the issue of whether or not the Tribunal has “jurisdiction” over the case.

    Author Dr. Jose V. Romero of this Commentary is right for the Philippines to be able to defend itself in the event of a conflict with another nation. He knows that as of now the Philippines is virtually “naked” in that it is not in a real position to defend itself–and Dr. Romero suggests that the country pursue a military-industrial program [which it must go for posthaste] for it to maintain a credible Defense Establishment which will make a potential adversary think twice before making the plunge.

    As a matter of fact that Philippines is now in the midst of a much-needed DEFENSE MODERNIZATION PROGRAM, which is limited to the acquisition by Purchase [from other countries like South Korea,the US and Japan] and deployment of desperately needed military, naval and air force hardware. [This is not the “military-industrial” program which Dr.Romero suggests in his Commentary, but it should do for now.]

    Even when such a Defense Modernization Program is completed within a span of several years, however,still the Philippines will not realistically be in a position to take on a colossus like China ALONE. But with a completely modernized Defense Establishment, it will then be in a position to do its share of the burden with its probable ALLIES in the event of a military conflict.


  2. Justaskingseriously on

    Just a latin grammatical point of order: Vis pacis para bellum. Pacis is in the genitive case. It should be in the accusative case, because peace is the object of the verb vis. The accusative case for pax is pacem.

    How did Switzerland manage to stay neutral? They were successful in staying neutral, because everybody seemed to know that the Swiss are always ready to defend themselves. There is no room for doubt in everybody’s mind that even now there are defenses hidden in plain sight installed all over the land.

    The Filipino trait shown through Heneral Luna from all accounts is a sad commentary. Tragic. The tragedy is concurrent with the supposed moderniization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Greed and lust for power trump nationalism or love of country. Checks and balances built into the Constitution are meant to curb lust for power. Greed for wealth is another matter. Control greed and somehow the tragic Filipino trait of treachery can be mitigated if not eliminated. Get a think tank on this issue. A good working solution may just be invented tailored to the filipino situation. A good place to start? The Comelec and the political process. Find a way to make politics truly local. However that can be put into reality may just provide a way to eliminate the excessive role of cash in elections. National and provincial candidates do not really need anymore to be going around physically shaking hands — bagmen in tow. Debates should be regarded as public service and accorded free air time. Eliminate personal political ads. Political debates might just become a new national sport. Make the gadgets for voting and counting votes also Filipino, completely local to eliminate foreign manipulations. Pass the Freedom of Information and the Anti Dynasty laws. When everybody can feel like everything now is transparent, there will be no more room for crooks to hide. And anybody with natural gifts and guts can run for office. The wealth of the nation can finally be allocated properly and honestly. Then nationalism can breathe freely and idealism can flourish. Heroes will rise like mushrooms.