More than a hundred days had passed since Ferdinand Marcos Jr. became the country’s president after his unprecedented electoral victory. As the country’s chief architect of foreign policy, the Marcos Jr. administration has embarked on various foreign travel commitments last September. His first destination was Jakarta, where he met Indonesian President Joko Widodo and discussed various avenues of cooperation between Indonesia and the Philippines. Later, he went to Singapore and met with his Singaporean counterparts, as he attempted to draw in investment pledges for the country. Afterwards, the president spent roughly a week in New York, where aside from his speech in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), he also met up with various businesses, investors, and politicians. All these travel commitments of the current administration in just a month is reflection on how the president will steer the Philippines beyond the tumultuous waves of global politics.
Our neighboring archipelagic nation of Indonesia as President Marcos Jr.’s first destination for his state visit was definitely a pleasant surprise. It is worth noting that both Jakarta and Manila share numerous common interests, where cooperation is of utmost importance. These would include addressing existential threats like terrorism, extremism, and climate change, where both these countries have ended up becoming victims in various occasions. As the two largest Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states in terms of population, economic partnership between Jakarta and Manila holds tremendous potential, most specially when one considers that a market shared by nearly 400 million Indonesians and Filipinos is too difficult for international investors to resist. With Jakarta serving as the de facto leading nation-state in the ASEAN region, developing and maintaining close ties with this country is critical to respond accordingly in the ever changing tides of geopolitics.
Visiting the highly-urbanized city-state of Singapore was also a no-brainer for the Marcos Jr. administration. Aside from the fact that Singapore employs thousands of Filipinos who contribute to various sectors of the Singaporean economy, it also serves as the investment hub of Southeast Asia. This state visit served as a testament not only to the government’s commitment to protecting overseas Filipinos, but also to the government’s active attempts to attract investments to the country. Even though structural and institutional reforms are required in the Philippines to become a more attractive investment option in the region, economic growth and job creation has been the primary objective of the Marcos Jr. presidency, most specially in the manufacturing sector where the country currently lags the most. To facilitate generation of employment opportunities, finding the right balance in incentivizing foreign investors and protecting labor rights of Filipino workers is key.
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Why then did President Marcos Jr. choose Indonesia and Singapore as his first two destinations for his state visits and not Washington nor Tokyo, who share deep bilateral relations with Manila? It definitely boils down to ASEAN becoming a more significant regional organization, as the Indo-Pacific region is sandwiched by Beijing and Washington’s strategic competition for resources and influence. With the Philippine head of state affirming his relationships with Jakarta and Singapore, it sends a positive message of commitment to the ASEAN community. Even though it doesn’t have the political clout similar to that of the European Union, the whole ASEAN community is poised to maintain strong economic growth, even though its member-states’ respective state institutions are far from being inclusive in comparison to its European counterpart.
The second half of September of the Marcos Jr. administration was spent in New York City, where he delivered his speech in the UNGA. He mentioned that the Philippines’ wishes to be “friends to all, enemies to none”, where aside from adopting an independent foreign policy, cordial bilateral and multilateral relations between different nations would be pursued through dialogue, cooperation, and mutual trust. He articulated the contribution of the Philippines to this international organization through the actions of the renowned Filipino statesman, Carlos P. Romulo. Aside from that, he has also mentioned three threats to human security, which are food insecurity, energy crisis, and climate change. These three issues that he has mentioned in UNGA are areas where various nation-states can cooperate, as they serve as significant threats that will confront even the sheer existence of these countries, governments, and peoples.
Beyond the United Nations, President Marcos Jr. had also engaged in various meetings inside New York, which would include multinational companies, venture capitalists, and other heads of state. Aside from meeting US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, his interview in the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was generally well-received. He wooed businessmen to invest in the Philippines, saying that current Philippine demographics paired with the government’s plans to digitize its services, will be greatly beneficial to both parties. Attracting foreign capital as means to utilize local labor is a perfect recipe for a more pluralistic kind of economic growth, which is something that the country direly needs.
As a part of the Philippine delegation, the president brought his economic team in his foreign travel. Despite the various threats that can hamper economic growth, the presence of the economic team is a way of demonstrating the country’s sound economic fundamentals, which include a predictable currency, solid foreign exchange reserves, and low unemployment rate. Engaging with other foreign dignitaries and non-state actors in the field of economics, reflects an evolution of Philippine national policy in the form of economic diplomacy, and this is something that the Philippines can take advantage of.
As a capital-hungry county, the government’s agenda is to prioritize the entry of foreign direct investments, and this becomes further emphasized with the president himself acting aggressively in attracting overseas businesses and corporations. As the Philippines is renowned in the global market for sending human resources abroad, international businesses and other nation-states have greatly realized the importance of Philippine labor. With a relatively low cost of living in comparison to other countries, and with a young workforce coupled with the government’s pledges to continuously invest in infrastructure, everything looks promising for the Philippine economy.
Despite these pledges of investment worth billions of dollars, they are mere promises that should be delivered, and the Philippines has a significant active role to play to see them to fruition. Creating a business-friendly climate entails various systemic and structural changes, if these corporations are to generate employment opportunities for local Filipinos. This begins with economic liberalization by removing these highly restrictive constitutional provisions that discourage the entry of these multinational companies. The 60-40 system when it comes to ownership has been counter-productive because local Filipino businesses were greatly protected from international competition. As a result, they have developed oligopolistic tendencies, and thus, these foreign direct investments instead of going to the Philippines, end up driving the economic growth of other Asian countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam. It is no wonder that the manufacturing sector of the Philippines cannot compete with other countries.
Generally speaking, President Marcos Jr. has strategically capitalized on the gains earned from the previous Duterte presidency’s pragmatic approach in foreign policy. This bodes well as the Philippines treads its own independent policy in pursuing, promoting, and protecting its national interests. Hopefully, this tightrope act would deliver prosperity and lift our very own local Filipinos out of poverty.
A no one who enjoys the fun things of life in private.
A believer of freedom, capitalism, and conservative brand of politics.
A no one who cares less about popular public opinion.
A believer that life can be better, if every one is a tad more responsible.