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HOWIE SEE IT: Duterte’s Failed Foreign Policy

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

In order for a foreign policy to succeed a clear common set of concepts and analytical frameworks to facilitate sound policy options must be present. As such, Duterte’s foreign policy is such a nightmare for it does not even have a common understanding of what is meant by “mutual success” (with so much obvious lopsided benefits to our counterparts). In order to create policy-relevant knowledge vis-à-vis success and failure in foreign policy, the following interrogations must be addressed: How operative is a policy instrument likely to be, in regards to which goals and targets, at what cost, and in comparison, with what other policy instruments? Failure to deal with each question may lead to serious policy mistakes.

From a purely rhetorically laden foreign policy that started with the jet ski promise to protect our territorial integrity masking itself in a pseudo-independent foreign policy which obviously never asserted our Hague Arbitral Award; everything Duterte did was to make a mockery of our foreign policy in favor of his friend Xi Jinping and of China; all to the detriment of the Filipino People.

Duterte’s Foreign Policy towards China is nothing but pacification, amid claims that jumping on the bandwagon of Chinese growth has led to a failure to rein in Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea. Moreover, Chinese loans for three multibillion-peso railway projects that were to be major legacies of former President Duterte under his “Build, Build, Build” program have been scuffled as his administration bowed out. The financing was for contracts — which were already awarded — covering the first package of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) Bicol project, the Subic-Clark Railway Project (SCRP) and the first phase of the Mindanao Railway Project (MRP) has been “considered withdrawn. China’s appeasement for what? Well, nothing, nothing at all.

In the end, the colossal investments that Duterte heralded after his many meetings with Chinese leaders have failed to come to fruition. The two BRI projects in the Philippines are small: One involves a couple of bridges in Manila and the other, a controversial dam, whose environmental impact is still to be properly addressed. In the meantime, China has not sugar-coated its pressure on Philippine-claimed features, like Whitsun Reef, in the West Philippine Sea. Nor has stopped harassing our fishermen or reduced its military presence in the region. Such slights have made Duterte’s accommodative foreign policy look imprudent.

As to Duterte’s outreach in 2016, Russia mainly took the occasion to expand defense relations. Specifically, it engaged Manila with port calls, naval exercises, and arms sales and donations. In 2017, the two countries signed a memorandum of agreement on defense cooperation, resulting in the dispatch of Russian and Philippine defense attaches to their respective capitals. So far, the Philippines has made a choice: it chose to become meek in Moscow’s incursion of Ukraine. Worse for the Philippine taxpayers the Russian gambit wasted 2B pesos of our tax money from the botched helicopter deal. The Duterte China Russia pivot comes at a time when Beijing and Moscow are seeking to revise the U.S.-led, rules-based international order, making Duterte’s foreign policy controversial and risky at the same time.

An independent foreign policy essentially means being friends to all and enemies to none but under this policy, the main consideration will be the interests and welfare of the Filipino people. So, when does failure come in? When such foreign policy serves only as a subterfuge to serve the vested interest of a foreign ally and one’s personal & pollical gain.

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