The national artist for literature F. Sionil Jose cites Richard Javad Heydarian in “Our foreign policy”, his PhilSTAR piece . That’s probably due to both of them being Ilocano. On Javad’s part, he’s only part Ilocano so he’s no GI, but I digress. Jose, delves into the wisdom and pitfalls of abandoning the cozy embrace of America and look to the now fully-awakened giant in our part of the world. Jose writes…
I bring to mind Switzerland, which was neutral in global conflicts and has survived handsomely. Then here in our part of the world, Thailand illustrated how it has adroitly managed to keep away from the clutches of Western imperialism. But in World War II, Thailand opened its gates to let the Japanese in.
Today, Thailand is doing very well, and maybe without meaning to, Heydarian has pointed the way to the future for us: we have to be friends with everyone and antagonize no one, but at the same time, we also have to be sure that we have the capability to defend our sovereignty. As a former American colony, America has influenced us profoundly, our foreign policy anchored on the closest relations with America. Whereas, in reality, the Philippines does not matter much to America.
Foreign policy is set by the President. This is why one should be astute in the conduct of the same. President Rodrigo Duterte didn’t profess to be a statesman when he was campaigning. More often than not, foreign policy isn’t an election issue because, by default, we have always been on the side of Uncle Sam — until Duterte came along. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was patterned after the non-aligned movement of the late 70s. It was not meant to be like the European Union (EU) which began as a common market aggrupation. There was a regional counterpart of of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which was SEATO — the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation. This was the forerunner of ASEAN. While the former Eastern European states which made up the USSR are now applying for EU membership, it is not automatic that they become members of NATO as well. ASEAN hasn’t made any agreements among its members for defense cooperation agreements. It can’t afford to upset China which is the region’s biggest trading partner. This is true even with Vietnam.
If Duterte didn’t proclaim an independent foreign policy and adopt rapprochement with China, our economy would’ve been stagnant. The Opposition wants a belligerent stand against China but has not offered any economic alternative other than trade with the US and Europe. The latter’s entry requirements are stringent and Philippine manufacturers are hard-pressed to comply because of antiquated manufacturing plants. Our packaging industry is not as modern as others in the region. Our production cost is high because of the high cost of labor, power, and domestic freight. Chinese hegemony is not the same as American hegemony. China is opening up trade with other countries in the world. It is not conflict-based like the US as it has done in the Middle East , Japan, and South Korea.
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Our economic growth has largely been stunted by our political structure. A plantation-style economy ruled by oligarch fiefs and regional and local fiefs at the provincial level. We also have large multinationals which control pineapple production. Mindanao’s economic development has been delayed by the secessionist movement but as peace has been achieved, development must now be accelerated. Again, technology is the solution to the problem. We can achieve food security if only the Department of Agriculture is headed by a competent chief. Nothing happened during the combined watch of Angel Alcala and Kiko Pangilinan. The same is true with Manny Piñol whose ideas were more for backyard farmers than for the large-production scale needed to feed our a nation of 109 million. It is now the Philippines’ turn to learn from Thailand and Vietnam, the two ASEAN member countries which learned rice production techniques from the then International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) at Los Baños.
Foreign trade is aligned with foreign policy. It does not help that the Opposition continues to put the administration down. It is equally stupid of their foreign allies to believe them. These countries can’t ram their neoliberal ideology down our throats because their political environment is changing as well. Given the fluid environment we are in, foreign policy should become an election issue. It is important because a President who does not continue with the policy set by Duterte will not be able to manage the economy well. Duterte, for his part, admitted he knew nothing about the economy. He left its management to the Cabinet’s economic cluster led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, who has done an excellent job by being proactive. The same is true with Foreign Affairs. Former Secretaries Perfecto Yasay and Alan Peter Cayetano were not qualified but since the appointment of Teodoro Locsin, what was wrong has been set right.
Our partners in ASEAN look at us now with respect because we are not America’s mouthpiece in the region anymore. The Philippines is toeing the line when it comes to ASEAN. This is why when we had problems with China back in 2012 during the Aquino administration, ASEAN largely ignored the issue. This was at the height of the Scarborough standoff. The next President should make a clear stand on foreign policy and it should be a factor in who we vote for.
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