Philippine foreign policy: From mendicancy to independence?

ariel nepomuceno_1During the 1951 University of the Philippines graduation ceremonies, eminent statesman, lawyer and poet Claro M. Recto delivered a speech essentially characterizing our foreign policy as one dependent on powerful foreign powers, particularly the United States. He eloquently lambasted the country’s willingness to be used by the US for its own military and economic interests and, in the process, losing its identity, thereby earning the disrespect of other nations. This gripping speech, entitled “Our Mendicant Foreign Policy,” has become a must read for politicians, historians, scholars and students who are all participants in the quest for the Philippines to achieve the dream of true independence.

A little more than six months into his term, President Duterte has been capturing the imagination of the entire world for his open tirades and criticisms of the US’s treatment of the Philippines in the areas of defense, economic cooperation and, likewise, echoed the US’s interference in our domestic affairs.

Particularly irked by President Barack Obama’s comments about the need to observe human rights in his antidrug and crime campaign, our President declared his plans of recalibrating the country’s traditional alliance with the US in favor of China and, currently, Russia. While this was the main flavor of this administration’s evolving foreign policy, many observed the slight change in his views when Donald J. Trump was elected and sworn into office a few days ago.

 New hope with Trump

MalacaÑang recently praised Trump’s desire to build a mutually beneficial relationship with its long-standing allies in the international community. The difference, as pointed out by the Palace, is that the US, under a Trump presidency, will respect the Philippines’s right to protect its self-interest and to carve an independent foreign policy based on principles of nationalism and patriotism. Presumably, self-interest would mean seeking stronger partnerships with China, a comprehensive review of the South China Sea territorial dispute strategy, procurement of arms and defense equipment from other world powers and limiting joint military exercises with the US. During his visit to Beijng, 13 bilateral cooperation agreements were signed by the President and his counterpart Xi Jinping, after his announcement of separation from the US. This was, however, clarified by Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III by a statement that the government’s core intention was to do more regional economic integration, thus visits to Asian countries have been prioritized compared to others.

Effects on Filipinos

All these developments manifest a big shift in the way our foreign policy is unfolding. It will surely bring about some benefits because broadening the range of international relationships would diversify the options of the Philippines in terms of partnering with countries that can provide investments, economic assistance, humanitarian aid and military strength. However, a good, objective assessment of our international alliances should be done.

The US is and will still be an important player at this stage. The negative implications of a Trump presidency cannot be disregarded. First, his economic protectionist policy of “America for Americans” may affect our business-process outsourcing industry and prevent our products from competing in their market due to high tariffs. Second, Asian factories can be closed down and relocated back to the US. Third, Filipino immigrants will experience the horrors of growing racial prejudice since Trump’s win has been predicated on dislike for foreigners who compete with middle-class Americans for jobs. One must not forget that during his campaign, Trump named the Philippines as a terrorist nation from which the US is letting “animals in!”

Trump’s latest tirades against China by rejecting the One China policy due to the economic disadvantages that the latter has brought to the US’s global trading position have caused shock waves to the diplomatic world. Equally alarming was his disinterest in fortifying defense cooperation with Asean in the midst of escalating security issues relating to the South China Sea. Worst of all, his growing friendship with Russia and its intelligence agencies have created a big rift between the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency. Such instability in his policy directions should be taken seriously as we begin to chart our way forward in the realm of international relations.

Today, Claro M. Recto’s speech still relevantly resonates: “Sentimentalism and emotionalism should not play a part in international relations. It is folly to expect any nation to ever sacrifice its welfare and security to pure idealism or to sentimental attachments. As Filipinos, we must look out for ourselves, because no one else will. That is the essence of independence.”


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