New Foreign Policy Directions for The Philippines

October 6, 2016

New Foreign Policy Directions for The Philippines

by Bobby Tuazon

Image result for rodrigo duterte and obama

Duterte has no time to be polite when it comes to his country’s sovereignty

President Rodrigo Duterte’s resolve to chart an independent foreign policy has exponential implications on Asian geopolitics and puts a spike on US hegemony in the region. American lawmakers are mulling retaliatory measures. To them, the maverick Filipino President can be tolerated, but any move to oust a key US strategic military outpost in the Philippines is another thing.

In a recent two-punch announcement, Mr. Duterte “served notice” that this month’s PH-US war games will be the last. While honoring treaty commitments with Washington, he also said he would forge economic alliances with China and Russia.

Mr. Duterte turned a new page in foreign policy when, instead of first paying a courtesy call on the White House, as his predecessors did, to reassure “special ties” with America, he flew to Laos for the ASEAN Summit, and then went on a state visit to Vietnam. Soon, he will go to China and Russia.

Image result for rodrigo duterte with China and Russia

He had earlier railed against US meddling following President Barack Obama’s hectoring that the war on drugs should be done on the right track. “For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace,” he said, and followed it up with the statement that US forces should leave Mindanao. “We might as well give it up.”

With US politics in transition amid a divisive presidential election, it will take time for US officials to take stock of the changing gears in Philippine foreign policy and figure out how to whip a bellicose, third-world President into line. But America’s carrot-and-stick diplomacy is now in the works, with the US Embassy in Manila hinting of possible cuts in US aid.

Disturbed that Mr. Duterte’s anti-American jabs are undermining the two countries’ strategic alliance, some US policymakers are using the extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs as an issue to teach the Filipino President a lesson. Answering a query on the steps America should take if aid cuts would not do the trick, Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the powerful US Senate appropriations subcommittee, said on Sept. 26: “We are faced with a broader issue that cannot be remedied simply by withholding assistance.”

Yet unpredictable is Mr. Duterte abrogating the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and other military deals with America, and court reprisals from the superpower. But the belligerency of his remarks, making him the only Filipino leader to stand up to America, is shaking a relationship long grounded on mendicancy and dependence. It is jarring a strategic alliance flaunted as America’s linchpin in its security engagement in the region, which the Pentagon has falsely claimed as a stabilizing force in the last 70 years. Losing military presence in the Philippines means relinquishing a major hub in the US system of bases and alliances for permanent hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.

Image result for rodrigo duterte  and ASEAN

But Mr. Duterte is on the right track; his independent foreign policy resonates at the right time. US credibility is on the decline, its much-touted Trans-Pacific Partnership in deep trouble, and Obama’s pivot or rebalancing strategy—which will reposition 60 percent of America’s global force in Asia against China by 2020—now appraised as a failure. Some US apologists see such a failure in the Pentagon’s inability to prevent North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and in curbing China’s facility-building in the South China Sea despite the Pacific Command’s muscle-flexing. China’s economic diplomacy is winning over Asian countries as it rolls out its grand “One Belt, One Road” economic connectivity with at least 50 percent of the world’s humanity. A Beijing-based analyst notes: US military power will be made irrelevant by an economy-driven “parallel order” cobbled by China, Russia, and other emerging powers.

Such trends help frame Mr. Duterte’s pragmatism and balancing act: making the Philippines a coequal of America while forging stronger economic cooperation with the latter’s peer competitors. National-interest-driven economic and trade alliances with new economic giants can bolster his administration’s big programs, particularly transport infrastructure and job-generating industries in the provinces. Negotiations can explore using the South China Sea’s marine and oil resources for mutual economic benefits with Chinese and Russian technology, and possibly even Norway, which is now involved in the peace talks.

Independent foreign policy should aim at veering away from security-based relationships, which America dominates, toward an economy-based one which opens limitless possibilities of friendly relations with the world. When based on people-centered and state-regulated sustainable growth, economic relations will help provide a stable base for an independent foreign policy.

But a foreign policy reorientation also needs the reform of two major institutions under the President: the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The DFA should be further professionalized by expanding the core of career officers to lead Philippine diplomacy. It should now draw up a long-term foreign policy roadmap that includes abandoning a fixated pro-US position in place of a respectable, trustworthy, and beneficial policy track.

As well, Mr. Duterte faces the daunting task of purging the AFP of US influence. The AFP has long acted as America’s surrogate army in fighting foreign wars, including recent ones in the Middle East, as well as being the US state department’s critical force in political upheavals in the Philippines. It should be fully insulated from politics and adhere to civilian supremacy while cutting its reliance on US military aid, training and indoctrination.

Bobby Tuazon, CenPEG’s policy study director, is coauthor and editor of 15 books on foreign policy and international relations, governance, peace process, electoral reform and political parties.


10 thoughts on “New Foreign Policy Directions for The Philippines

  1. A Donald Trump on steroids or something a lot stronger?

    What is it about this Century that seems to produce such men to lead nations?

  2. Welcome to Putschland.
    The AFP and RCC will make a S.O.B of this anarchist sooner rather than later.
    State Sanctioned Vigilante has no place in modern nation states.
    But who said the Pinoys who voted the Devil are civilized?

    * RCC? The Pope and his Gang.

  3. Every century or decade will produce such personalities. Remember after Adolph Hitler, we had the likes of Ghadaffi, Idi Amin, Khomeini, and now it is SE Asia’s turn with Duterte. we just have to learn to deal with them.

  4. President Rodrigo Duterte is on the right track by reclaiming his nation’s sovereignty and independence. He even has the insight that it is almost perfectly ok to shout down Obama calling him “son of a whore” and insult European officials who lectures him how to run Philippine.

    Late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had traveled down this path. The key to confront US successfully is to tell the difference between ruling elites and American general public who are generally central-right in their political view. You can “rotan” American Michael Fay for committing vandalism crime in Singapore amidst complains of US liberals including President Bill Clinton who must pay the lip service of protesting human right violation; But American public were found generally had cheered the action of whipping Michael Fay, an American. US Congress even later invited Mr Lee Kuan Yew to address the joint sessions of Congress. Remember Singapore is a very tiny nation.

    Believe it or not, President Rodrigo Duterte’s asserting national independence is a very core of Americanism. Only American liberals and rootless American globalists will fight against Americanism. Ignore them – well, unless Hillary is expected to rule for the next 4 years.

  5. A week ago, after a game of golf, I was having beers with my Filipino friend, a son of a former Filipino ambassador to the US. We chatted about Duterte, who has 91% approval rating from the people. He told me that Duterte’s anti-American jabs are well calculated, that vast majority of the Filipino people are sick and tire of America still treating them like a colony. The Philippines want true independence.

    Duterte is playing one superpower against the other. By annoying Washington, Manila would be able to convince Beijing to sit down and perhaps offer infrastructure projects such as a railway in the south. Then Duterte would go back to the US and say, “What will you offer me, beside bombs and guns?” He wants to butter both side of the bread.

  6. Even in his honeymoon period, Duterte policies and program can only be described as crude and many casualties. He zealously attacks his political enemies without good enough evidence, his drug war clearly a sledgehammer of a complex problem, his foreign policy reactionary that threaten fundamentals including PH’s interest.

    So far, his damage is limited but the fact is he is already a failure because he spent his political capital not to solve deep fundamental issues like jobs, infrastructure and growth but on more politics. If, in fact when, his political capital starts to wane, then PH would have again wasted time they have lost so much for so long in the past.

  7. /// Shiou October 7, 2016 at 1:16 am
    President Rodrigo Duterte is on the right track by reclaiming his nation’s sovereignty and independence. He even has the insight that it is almost perfectly ok to shout down Obama calling him “son of a whore” and insult European officials who lectures him how to run Philippine.

    Late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had traveled down this path. ///

    LKY traveled down which path? The one that says “son of a whore”? Being unnecessarily confrontational? LKY was able to chart independent courses for Singapore because Singapore was not an aid recepient and have to toe the line.

    LKY talked plenty of sense whilst Duterte talks nonsense. I think you will be more corrent if you liken Duterte to Mahathir who liked to take pot shots at the US.

  8. Quote:- “He wants to butter both side of the bread”

    Even little children knows that buttering both sides of the bread means getting butter on your fingers whichever side you hold.

  9. Wayne:
    That’s exactly the point. Duterte will definitely get his hand messy. It will be very interesting to watch when a very exceptionalist Hillary got into office.

  10. When this mas murdering psychopath gets played by Washington and the PRC and the security apparatus gets into a war with drug cartels, which the former are part of, then the rest of SEA will get to see what happens when you don’t build up before cutting loose.

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