Early in his presidential term, the populist president, Rodrigo Duterte, has firmly touted that the Philippines, under his administration, will observe and value the “principle of sovereignty, sovereign equality, non-interference and the commitment of peaceful settlements of dispute that will serve our people and protect the interests of our country.” And, most importantly, he emphasized that his administration will continue to assert an “independent foreign policy” for the Philippines.
Subsequently, the corresponding political events deviated the direction of his strong words. While the President is manifesting incremental deflection from its long-term ally, i.e. the US, he is leaning anew towards another imperialist, which happens to be the superpower rival of western imperialism, with the same intentions - to expand power, control countries, and maintain hegemony - in a more obtrusive, sophisticated method and evidently worse. The Philippine-China relations, with the former’s sycophancy and deference to the latter, isn’t getting any better but is rather becoming more intoxicating as the world changes its focus towards the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
Downplaying of Crucial Events
Lest we forget, let’s recapitulate the present administration’s downplaying of crucial events: (a) In April of 2018, despite the blaring reports of Chinese reclamation and militarization of the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Duterte has provided endearing remarks to China and its president, Xi Jinping; (b) Months after Chinese poachers have illegally harvested giant clams in Panatag Shoal in WPS, was the wake of the Filipino fishermen’s plight after being rammed by a Chinese vessel and left floating in the shallow waters. Surprisingly, Duterte cold-bloodedly dismissed their ordeal as an “ordinary maritime traffic accident”; (c) Last 17th of February this year, Philippine navy, while patrolling around the WPS, has encountered a Chinese warship warning them that the Chinese government has “immutable sovereignty” over the area. The moment got more controversial and intense when the latter was caught aiming their guns towards the Philippine Navy vessel. Delfin Lorenzana, Duterte’s appointed chief of the Department of National Defense (DND), however, downplayed the incident as a mere “test” of what our reactions would be; (d) Earlier this month, despite the piling reports of the faulty health equipment from Chinese manufacturers and the censorship of vital information at the outset of this health outbreak, Duterte has, yet again, praised the Chinese government for the support in this battle against COVID-19 and dismissed the allegations that the virus has originated in China.
Pursuit for an “independent foreign policy”
As the world derails its attention towards the pandemic, China continues its sprawling construction of research and military installments within the disputed area. Morgan Ortagus, US State Department spokeswoman said in a statement that China “has announced new 'research stations' on military bases it built on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef and landed special military aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef”, referring to two artificial islands that China built on the disputed shoals.
It is not only the Philippines that contends territorial disputations against China over the parcels in the South China Sea. However, unlike the submissiveness of the Philippines, relatively small countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia are consistently vocal on their opposition against the unlawful claims of China over the whole SCS. But like Vietnam and Malaysia, the Philippines, too, has bit the bait of China’s deceptive strategy - offering lump-sum financial loans for large infrastructural constructions in line with China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its “mask diplomacy” amid the soaring health crisis.
The Duterte administration should learn from its neighboring countries out of the continuing adversities in the disputed territories - that China’s diplomatic aids are nothing but a carrot and stick foreign policy strategy to further strengthen its territorial claims. The president should side and form an alliance with those who are likewise inflicted bitterly by a common inflictor.
Should President Duterte pursue an “independent foreign policy”, he must accordingly promote, prioritize, and protect the interests of the Philippines and its people. Further, the national government should rigorously limit its ties with China and curb the influx of Chinese nationals and businesses in our country as alarming incidents that involve Chinese individuals and propaganda are rising. The treacherous and teeming Chinese inrush, coincidently with our territorial disputes against China, should be regarded as a national intrusion, which openly situates our country’s national security to be severely compromised.
But with the years of influence by Duterte’s strong pro-China stance, the attainment of an “independent foreign policy” itself will be a drawn-out process, if not forever. Duterte’s populism has transformed and bent the fabric of Philippine political culture – from a US-leaning nation to a Chinese loving government. Because of this, the process of attenuation from unhealthy foreign influence might take years of gradual detachment or even a rigorous overhauling of the reigning socio-political culture of the Philippine society.
He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in the Philippines. His fields of interest are Politics, International Relations, Global Studies, Philosophy, and Religion. Currently, he is an amateur opinion writer who wants to initiate discourse in any means to promote knowledge synthesis.