There is no question that the Philippines needs to move towards a more independent and progressive foreign policy position. To achieve this, the government must make a strong commitment against superpower games to accumulate power and influence against each other.
An independent and progressive foreign policy must be founded on the principles of equality and human rights, particularly the right to life and dignity. It must have strong gender and ecological lens in finding peaceful resolutions to sovereign disputes. It must also be in solidarity with different countries, pursuing principled cooperation based on mutual respect of each other's national sovereignty and integrity.
"From one colonial master to another"
Unfortunately, President Rodrigo Duterte's visit to China missed the unique opportunity to present such a foreign policy. He missed the chance to represent the collective aspirations and independence of the Filipino people. Behind President Duterte's fiery anti-west rhetoric is a confused foreign policy riddled with contradictions.
President Duterte must understand that the country cannot possibly have a respectable foreign policy by ditching the chains of one colonial master in exchange for another, by rejecting US imperialism only to accede to the Chinese government's regional bullying and "social-imperialism", by preferring another power because it turns a blind eye on the government's alleged human rights violations. Sadly, it appears that President Duterte has capitulated to the very same superpower realpolitik that he wants to veer away from.
The shelved Hague ruling
Equally disheartening is the government's decision to shelve our historic victory at the Hague tribunal in its bilateral talks with China. This victory was the product of determined diplomatic work on the part of our foreign affairs representatives and the thousands of ordinary Filipinos who marched to the streets to defend our sovereignty. President Duterte's attempt to make a deal with China in grave disregard of the Hague ruling is wrong. That we have to get China's "approval" in order for our fishermen to gain access to Philippine marine resources is absurd. This renders our hard-fought victory hollow and our sovereignty severely compromised.
The risk of Chinese loans
I also raise my concerns on the multi-billion loans that the Duterte government received from China. Firstly, it appears that we traded the West Philippine Sea to China for these loans. On this basis alone, we are at the losing end of this "bargain." Secondly, Chinese loans, while devoid of attached neoliberal economic prescriptions, come with grossly unfair and unconscionable terms that will bind us to Chinese contractors and Chinese state industries. The implementation of these loan-funded projects also lacks transparency and integrity. We do not have to go too far back in history to find evidence against Chinese loans: the hallmark of Chinese-funded NBN-ZTE and Northrail projects during the time of the Arroyo government was high-level, high-value corruption. It is also worth remembering that China attempted to illegally lease 1M hectares of Philippine agricultural lands, violating patrimony and land reform laws. While loans are not inherently bad, President Duterte himself must see to it that these will not be abused, he must ensure that these will not compromise our laws and sovereignty; these loans must benefit the people without imposing an unnecessary burden.
We should not underestimate the importance of a concrete strategy when it comes to foreign affairs, the promotion of national interests and peaceful cooperation with other countries. I urge the president to conduct extensive foreign policy dialogues and consultations with his Cabinet, the legislature, foreign affairs experts and other stakeholders to craft a foreign policy truly reflective of the Filipino people's interests and aspirations.
An extremely important matter such as this simply cannot be left to the mere judgment of one man alone.
- Statement of Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros