Is this our foreign policy?

She clashed with her Foreign Secretary, Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. on the basic issue of American troops in Mindanao. Because of this, she said, she was accepting his resignation. Everyone knows she was really sacking him, and in a rather shabby way too.

The other day, asserting her role as “chief architect” of the nation’s foreign policy, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gave the public an idea of how she sees Philippine interests projected in an evolving world environment.  Eight “realities”, she said, will guide her in the shaping of our foreign policy.

These are: “(1) the paramount influence of China, Japan, and the United States in security and the economic evolution of East Asia; (2) the growing role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in global affairs; (3) the role of the international Islamic community; (4) the looming importance of international organizations; (5) the protection of our environment, natural resources and maritime territory; (6) the drive for direct foreign investments will include Europe as a major source, along with US, Japan, China, and ASEAN; (7) the importance of international tourism; (8) the crucial role of overseas Filipinos in our socioeconomic stability.”

A quick look at this list will show that the President has confused aspects of the international environment with national strategic goals. These are two different sets of statements. The first four items are observations about the international environment with possible implications for national affairs.  But the last four items are not so much “realities” as they are objectives with foreign policy implications. They are not givens, but choices we make as a nation.

The President said she would be guided by these “realities.”  Yet these are not self-evident realities.  Their meaning is ultimately a function of the strategic goals to which we commit ourselves as a people.  For example, what does it mean for us to recognize “the role of the international Islamic community?”  Or the “paramount influence of China, Japan, and the US in security and the economic evolution of East Asia?”  What kind of decisions do these “realities” prepare us for?   These are either banal statements masquerading as foreign policy, or they are meant to justify and naturalize policy commitments already made.  I am inclined to think it is the latter.

“I shall make sure,” the President stated in this first-ever enunciation of her foreign policy, “that we strengthen the international linkages that will enable us to fight terrorism and uphold the law everywhere.  I am placing foreign policy at the service of our fight against homegrown terrorism and criminality and lawlessness.” This is a very revealing statement.  No country today other than the United States has dared define the international contours and requirements of the campaign against terrorism.  No, not even the United Nations.  If there is still any doubt that we intend to follow America wherever it will take us in its crusade against terrorism, this statement by President Macapagal ends it.

If America asks for an extension of its stay in Mindanao under the framework of the Visiting Forces Agreement beyond the date (July) originally agreed upon, that request is as good as granted.  If America insists on a broader framework of cooperation under a proposed Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), it will get it.  Assured that most Filipinos welcome the revival of the American military presence in the Philippines, President Macapagal has removed the issue from the realm of public debate.  She will be remembered as the president who single-handedly brought American troops back into the country and returned Philippine foreign policy to its colonial beginnings.

All for what?  No doubt in exchange for some material and financial assistance, but more importantly, for a measure of international support against any attempt to unseat the present government by a non-electoral route, and a tacit endorsement of a re-election bid in 2004.

These developments bring us back to square one in our long and troubled relationship with America.  That relationship, which our previous leaders had characterized as “special”, brought upon our society the curse of dependency that prevented us from taking the serious path of nationhood.  The special favors the US gave to our elite in the early years of independence stunted our economy and compromised the very nature of that independence.  America had no interest in seeing us evolve into a free and sovereign nation.  The American bases were the sum total of its interests in our country.

We went through a wrenching experience when they finally withdrew in 1991, and we surprised ourselves by our ability to live without American aid.  We learned to navigate our way in the world without an American map.  We learned to take foreign policy initiatives without prior clearance from Uncle Sam.  This gave us enormous confidence in ourselves.  But the global war against terrorism that America is directing is changing all that.

The path of dependency beckons once again, more so because we feel lost with the kind of leaders we have.  It’s been only 10 years since American soldiers left Angeles and Olongapo.  Today we realize we are not completely weaned from the habit that is America. Do we really want to go back to that old addiction?  Let us at least debate the proposition.


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