Being Right

Someone once said that foreign relations is merely the extension of domestic policy. Thus anybody familiar with the state of our local politics would not be surprised at how we conduct ourselves on the global stage.

The main issue of the day, of course, being China’s bullying.

It’s really fascinating to see China’s local fanatics try to drum up support for their favorite totalitarian government: China never invaded another country, they say; China is our oldest ally, says another; China made a lot of investments here, chimes in one more.

Which is all perfectly fine and well if not for the insane forgetting of one humongous fact: China is trying to grab our territory!

But it’s their territory too, China’s minions say. Which should inevitably lead to this question: are you people actually Filipinos?

Because as Filipinos our territory is what we say it to be, expressly written in our Constitution and further delineated in legislation.

Then there’s the 2016 arbitral ruling, which this column actually believes was a case better left unfiled and for purposes of international politics would have best served as a Damocles sword.

The crux was the issue of enforceability.

That the Philippines had the law on its side was without doubt; the question was how to make China realize that. Nothing has happened so far that would justify modifying this view.

Self-styled foreign relations analysts argued then that China would cave in, the same way that the US complied with the ruling in the Nicaragua case; that the Philippine petition would encourage other countries to rise up and file their own cases against China; and that the US would unequivocally and immediately side with the Philippines to enforce the ruling by any means necessary.

None of which happened.

Those analysts have been consistently wrong then as they are today.

To clarify: While the belief that the case should not have been filed is maintained here, nevertheless, the fact remains the case was filed and, of course, we should be thankful and glad for the victory we won at the tribunal.

But here is another point: Noynoy’s administration was simply irresponsible in timing a petition knowing that they will not be around to manage (i.e., take advantage of) the decision’s aftermath.

It left an incoming Duterte administration to grapple by itself the steep learning curve necessary to handle an issue of utter complexity.

The thing with international politics is that the options and permutations change simultaneous with time. And President Duterte was placed in a field whose changes kept accelerating due to the 2016 decision.

To put a not too fine point to it: the past administration simply mucked up the field for Duterte.

Having said that, some suggestions previously made here (“For a strategic, coherent Philippine foreign policy,” 2016; “Keeping China out of Panatag,” 2017) should still be valid and relevant:

Open and transparent discussions and agreements allowing for mutual exploration and use of the disputed areas and resources, without necessarily prejudicing sovereignty claims at a more opportune future time.

Enhanced trade arrangements should be raised. We must continue calls to revive the World Trade Organization and maintain openness to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (if and when the US decides to rejoin) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Definitely maximize the BIMP-EAGA.

We need to strengthen our relationship with Russia, particularly on trade.

Seek to acquire defense pacts with our longtime trading partners: Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Establish readiness, in case of further Chinese aggression, to bring the matter before the UN Security Council or the General Assembly.

Yes, China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and, yes, China has generated support, much more so than the Philippines, in relation to the arbitral tribunal ruling, by doing the thing we should have done and that is have a coordinated media plan to take advantage of the ruling’s outcome. Which, as alluded to above, we didn’t do. Nevertheless, the UN Security Council or UN General Assembly still makes for a more visible platform.

Finally, even in diplomacy, talk is futile unless one has the muscle and will to back it up. Our foreign policy must be partnered with a strong, robust military.

The Duterte administration is doing well to increase defense spending and reviving mandatory military service for all college-age students.

We must realize that — like it or not — our geography and history made us strategic, right dab in the middle of world affairs. We should accept that and act like a country vigorously pursuing a policy of democratic values and principles.

And patience: realizing that foreign policy is not played out in months or years but decades, if not centuries.

We should also change our mindset, to stop being perpetually reactive to whatever the world throws at us.

Now is a good time to start conducting foreign relations by envisioning a world beneficial to Filipinos and then crafting a policy creating that world.


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula