PH needs to define its foreign policy

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THE tiff over the grossly misunderstood expletive aside, it was as well that President Rodrigo Duterte and his US counterpart did not sit down for a talk.

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Duterte in the early days of his presidency is yet to define a foreign policy, which whether he does or not, will anyway be his legacy on the world stage. Barack Obama is on the last leg of his eight-year overall reign. For him, this is the period that is euphemistically called the lame duck presidency. If Donald Trump wins the election, any deal Obama makes with any world leader now may be torn up. Even his own party candidate, Hilary Clinton, does not accept all of Obama’s policy strategies. The Trans-Pacific Partnership that Obama hailed as his “pivot” to Asia is an example.

So, what could Duterte have achieved with Obama if at all they had embraced each other and sat down to talk? Obama could, perhaps, tell Duterte, as we sometimes hear him say on television, “America is the most powerful nation in the world, period.”

Duterte, likewise, could tell the leader of the world’s most powerful nation “I do not have any master except the Filipino people.” Perhaps he wouldn’t just end it there without punctuating it with his signature whorific Filipino lexicon favorite with great fluency. Still, that would have achieved nothing more than a photo opportunity for people on both sides to feel good about.

It is, therefore, pointless to carry on a public debate about the damage Duterte’s blurting out something that is never heard in the realm of diplomacy might have done to Philippine-American relations; or even go on explaining that foreigners have misunderstood the terminology. Leave it aside and focus on issues that are more important to us.

The Asia-Pacific century is upon us – the key issues that will shape the world in this century will be decided in our region where nearly 60 percent of the worldpopulation live. What role can the Philippines now play here?

And how can we avoid becoming a pawn in the power play between the world’s superpower and another emerging superpower that is also our neighbor? That is what our leaders must consider and the people must discuss.

Every Philippine President in the past three decades has been rather remiss on foreign policy. The only time we took a defining stand on that front was back in the 1970s. Before the beginning of that decade, Ferdinand Marcos, then President, realized the United States would not win the Vietnam War and that Washington would eventually be compelled to mend fences with its enemies, particularly China.

Upon learning that Washington, as the frontline state in the US’ China encirclement policy was where the US has stationed its warheads directed at the growing Asian giant and the Soviet Union, Marcos realized we might have to cut lose and go it alone. So, he decided to outwit Washington.

With the help of the Indian government, he sent emissaries secretly to Moscow to negotiate forming diplomatic relations and his wife, Imelda, to Hong Kong not just for shopping but also to establish contacts with the Chinese for talks. Reports have it that when the Soviet ambassador in New Delhi told Marcos’ emissaries — Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor, Jr. and Gen Jose Almonte, then a major — that the US would make the Philippines suffer like Cuba if it forged a relationship with Moscow, Almonte assured them that Manila was ready to risk the American ire.

With such clear mind and determination, the Philippine government then sealed diplomatic relations with China in 1975 and with the Soviet Union in 1976, well before the US normalized relations with China.

Planning with such forethought has never been seen since; except in 2003 when then Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., in a disagreement with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s overly pro-US foreign and defense policy, proposed in a public statement that we must work closely with the Third World nations. But that fell on deaf ears.

More than a decade has passed since and we continue to hang on to Washington’s coattails. There is no suggestion here that we must distance from the US. Rather we must take our future into our hands and consider developing equally close economic and political relations with emerging powers; for example, the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), as well as members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and build a neutral foundation for us in the community of world nations.
Now is the time to take that initiative.

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