Time to rethink our foreign policy
As China and the US determine who their leaders will be, the Philippines needs to examine how it will guarantee that the policies it is pursuing will be able to match the impact of the two powerful countries’ future actions.
By this, I mean that we should be able to take advantage of any opportunities which may arise when the two countries flex their political and economic powers in the aftermath of their leadership transitions.
Our strategic contexts upon which we must develop our policy include the rapidly changing global political and economic environment. The continuing rise of China as a regional and global power is important in our considerations since we should expect to see both Washington and Beijing attempt a tight balancing act to restore stability in their relationships.
We need to consider that our interests lie in ensuring that we are able to take advantage of opportunities that will open up when these two countries come to a new modus vivendi under their leaders; however, we also need to protect ourselves from any fallout should the two become more at odds with each other.
As the Philippines has a unique strategic position as a state that truly connects both sides of the Pacific Ocean, it becomes more imperative that it should actively seek to influence the future relations of the two powers.
I would argue that the best way for the government to address our international security and economic concerns is to invest in its Foreign Service.
Known for attracting the best and the brightest, the Foreign Service is a specialized branch of the government, with the latter having a responsibility to the former that it remain on top of its game.
Beyond our need to improve our external security by acquiring more sophisticated ships and fighter planes is our need to ensure that no conflict occurs in the first place between the Philippines and its neighboring countries. This unenviable task belongs to the members of our Foreign Service.
The continuing professionalization of the Foreign Service should be given utmost importance. Surely, if the government can afford to spend millions of pesos to produce lieutenants in the Philippine Military Academy, it can also spend more resources on the country’s Foreign Service officers and their staff. After all, they serve on the frontlines in implementing and protecting our national interests.
Our elected leaders should find time to look into how they can improve the ability of the Foreign Service Institute to train the country’s current and future diplomats. Even with its current structure and limited funding, the Institute has been training diplomats who can stand among their counterparts in the global stage.
More could be achieved with additional resources provided to FSI; nevertheless, its mandate should also be reviewed to ensure that it is up to the challenge of coping with an international system that is becoming more globalized.
Of course, strategic and policy research should not be forgotten. The country’s ability to absorb what its diplomats abroad learn depends also on the quality of analysis and research upon which the design of policy must rest. The DFA cannot rely solely on the few scholars of international relations and strategic studies in Philippine academia. It also needs its own internal expertise.
Other ministries of foreign affairs spend a lot of money on research and strategic studies to ensure that they are on top of the issues that governments need to face in the short-, medium- and long-term.
If our legislators and other foreign policy elites like to listen to foreign experts and read their opinion and analysis, that is their prerogative but it is also important that they invest in developing the country’s pool of experts. FSI’s Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies can serve as the platform for developing national expertise on foreign policy and strategic studies.
These issues and others related to foreign policy and foreign affairs are not solely the responsibility of the DFA. Our political leaders need to take responsibility as well. This means that they have to become statesmen who can rise above the pettiness that usually pervades our domestic policy formulation.
Our political leaders should not only see foreign affairs as a means of providing assistance to nationals where they can pander to migrant workers and their votes. There are other considerations as well, including the protection of our security interests and the conduct of economic diplomacy.
All of these are intertwined and each one should not be separated from the other. Our policymakers need to be more sophisticated when they make our foreign policy.
As the Philippines continues its delicate and difficult balancing act in the international arena, its leaders should take foreign policy seriously if they are resolute in protecting our interests as a nation.
It would mean rising to the demands of being globally aware and locally sensitive. It would mean translating domestic needs into foreign policy pursuits that allow us to maximize our gains in our interactions with other states and global actors while minimizing the negative impact brought about by a more interdependent world.
Lastly, it would mean accepting that the conduct of foreign affairs is integral to our overall development as a nation, and that we cannot anymore believe in the fantasy that what happens in the Philippines remains solely in the Philippines and that what happens abroad does not affect us in any way.
All of what has been written here are difficult but then Filipinos have always risen above the many difficulties that the country has faced. In this day and age, we could not afford to do otherwise especially in foreign affairs.
If we truly want to be independent in the conduct of our foreign affairs, our foreign policy should articulate what the Filipino people themselves believe would be the best way forward in pushing for and defending our interests in the international arena. – Rappler.com
Julio Amador III is currently a graduate student specializing in foreign policy at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. The opinions expressed in this commentary belong to him alone and do not represent the views of the institutions he is affiliated with.