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An interventionist Senate in Philippine foreign policy

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Alma Maria O. Salvador

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Foreign policy is often an eclipsed subject in electoral campaigns. By its nature, it is reserved to the remit of the agents of the Foreign Affairs department, particularly the Chief Executive, who acts as its main architect. Despite this, there has been an increasing demand for transparency on foreign policies, particularly by members of the Senate, a body that is not directly involved in negotiations.

Defined in terms of external relations of states and their articulation of national interest vis-a-vis other states, foreign policy is mainly concerned about diplomacy, security, conflict management, trade and representation — issues that do not directly translate to the day to day preferences of the electorate. However, there is no doubt to the recent intensification of the demand for an interventionist Senate in foreign policy making in the Philippine government. This is particularly evident with the culmination of the West Philippine Sea case with an arbitral award to the Philippines and President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to shelve the UN decision in favor of a policy of appeasement on China.

This demand is echoed by this year’s senatoriables. In his campaign pitch, Ex SolGen Florin Hilbay has pushed for an active exercise of the oversight function of the Senate in order “to understand the operations of the government,” specifically President Duterte’s dealings with China. Senators Bam Aquino and Koko Pimentel have made a similar push for transparency, while Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, a proponent of a clear ‘maritime security framework,’ has argued that “Philippine foreign policy has been severely compromised due to combined economic, diplomatic, and military coercion of China towards the Philippines.”

So as not to belabor the explicit Philippine constitutional provisions on the joint role of the Senate and the Executive in foreign policy, reflected in the Senate’s oversight power of inquiry in aid of legislation and its role in treaty ratification (treated by Jemy Gatdula in a BW Online column on October 26, 2016), let me turn to the other bases for transparent and accountable foreign policy making.




The first basis is found in the blurring of the division between domestic and external policies driven by transnational forces of citizen mobility, globalized media, and increasing societal interdependence. Transnationalism is not a recent phenomenon, but it has intensified to the extent that the governance of domestic policies, more particularly matters on health, natural resources and environment, human rights, migration, security, and the like, have become more sensitive to outside regional developments. Policies with transnational dimension also produce consequences beyond the nation-state. The West Philippine and South China Sea issues are such cases in which the sovereignty and maritime claims of Southeast Asian claimants overlap with the local people’s struggle for livelihoods security.

The influence of transnational advocacy networks (TANs) on economic, cultural and political integration of states also reinforce this blurring in policymaking, often paving the way for the internationalization of specific norms. An example includes TANs’ push for the illegalization of certain domestic norms and state practice that inflict harm on young women and girls, such as the norm on female genital mutilation or cultural norms that lead to unsustainable resource extraction such as whaling or those that promote the inhumane treatment of domesticated animals such as dogs in the dog meat trade, which continue to form part of the domestic practices of specific states.

A second basis is related to the first and is found in the internal/external security threat-nexus, formed out of the policy interdependence of defense, diplomacy and development. Transnationalism and globalization blur the boundaries of these policy areas, as do the actors (border control agents, military and civilian law enforcers) that define and implement these policies. Current events have demonstrated how politics can transform a low political issue to a security concern that requires emergency action. For instance, the anti-immigration sentiment among select EU member-states was, by and large, a product of the policy coupling of migration with terrorism and transnational crimes. This is a move that has relocated migration from a discourse on low politics (job security and welfare) to a high politics discourse on homeland and regional security.

Our case, in which the Philippine National Security Strategy integrates the sources and challenges of internal security (Abu Sayyaf, maritime piracy, smuggling and drug trafficking) and external security (China and North Korea), captures the imperatives of transnationalism. When translated on the ground, anti-piracy and border control measures of municipal law enforcement are reinforced by maritime delineation agreements, joint coast guard exercises, and mini-lateral/ coordinated maritime patrols that involve third states. Such is the case between the Philippine, Indonesian and Malaysian navies that implemented coordinated patrols against piracy and smuggling in their shared Sulu-Sulawesi waters.

Emerging trends on transnationalism that weave domestic with foreign policies have made inevitable the intervention of the people’s representatives in Congress, not only in the implementation of, but in the framing of foreign policy. On June 12, 2018, Senator Risa Hontiveros stated, “President Duterte and his foreign affairs officials have the responsibility to inform the people about their foreign affairs strategy to respond to China’s aggressive actions in the region.” In the light of this, she called for a foreign policy audit to “’determine if the Duterte administration’s foreign policy framework is in compliance with our international obligations, particularly the arbitral tribunal ruling on the West Philippine Sea.’”

As the real impact of foreign policy materializes through concrete issues that affect human lives at the societal level, it becomes high time for the actors of the Executive and legislative bodies to align their efforts in crafting and implementing a foreign policy that relates to the uncertainties of this fast-changing world.

 

Alma Maria O. Salvador is an assistant professor of political science in Ateneo de Manila.

asalvador@ateneo.edu