June 21, 2023
MANILA – The previous administration invoked the phrase “independent foreign policy” too many times. The former president, in moving away from and expressing disdain for the United States and members of the European Union, said they were interfering with how he was running the Philippines. He pivoted away from them and toward China, our giant neighbor.
This was him, he said, adopting an “independent” foreign policy.
We know now that it was not independent at all, because it subordinated our interests to the interests of our giant neighbor. The results were detrimental to our country. Despite former president Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of appeasement toward China, and despite his refusal to assert our victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, China continued to act like a bully in our own West Philippine Sea, flexing its maritime muscle and intimidating the Philippine Coast Guard and ordinary fisherfolk alike. Certainly, these were not the acts of a friend.
President Marcos, in seeking to distance himself from the foreign policy decisions of his predecessor, has said time and again only the national interest will dictate and govern his administration’s foreign policy. But while these words are encouraging, it is only right that we break them down to what they should truly mean.
This year, as we commemorated the 125th anniversary of the declaration of Philippine independence, the national and international security challenges that confront us are complex and daunting. The risks are traditional, nontraditional, and evolving. They come from many fronts. How, then, amid the equally daunting national concerns that preoccupy our leaders, should they assert the national interest and let it be their primordial guide in determining a truly independent foreign policy?
Foremost is to remember that our foreign policy is our own and that it should transcend the strategic competition between the US and China. We no longer live in a bipolar world where two major powers compete for supremacy and alliances with other states, and where they only set the international agenda. Instead, the world has become multipolar, with numerous independent states sharing democratic values and committing to a rules-based international order.
It is with these many like-minded states that we should strengthen our alliances and strategic partnerships.
Fortunately, now that the pandemic is no longer considered a global emergency, Mr. Marcos can resume in-person meetings with leaders of Indo-Pacific states, specifically to talk about defense and economic agreements.
With regard to defense, the Philippines should capitalize on the collective vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. During their 49th summit held in Hiroshima, Japan last month, the G7 — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the US—reiterated their support and recognition of our 2016 arbitral victory in the West Philippine Sea. This should embolden us that we are on the right side of history as we think of ways to counter the expansive presence of Chinese vessels in our waters.
Through minilateral, bilateral, and multilateral modes of cooperation with like-minded partners, the Marcos administration is doing right in pursuing and strengthening diplomatic channels. These modes of cooperation will also allow us to modernize and, thus, strengthen our military capabilities to protect our territorial integrity and sovereignty, and our people.
An example would be the first trilateral maritime exercises conducted from June 1 to 7, in the waters off Mariveles, with the US Coast Guard and the Japan Coast Guard.
Aside from these, emphasis must be placed on pushing policies and initiatives consistent with the interests of the Filipino people, maintaining a firm, consistent, and uncompromising position on the West Philippine Sea, prioritizing economic cooperation with our most beneficial trading and investment partners, and creating a stable and business-friendly economic environment grounded on the rule of law to encourage investments and public-private partnerships.
This is what it means to be truly independent — being aware of and pursuing what is good for our country, and strengthening partnerships with those countries who share our values and commitment to what is right and just.
As we commemorate Independence Day this month, may we always be reminded that we should never take our sovereignty and integrity for granted. These should be cherished, defended, and protected at all times and at all costs.