Our dysfunctional foreign policy | Inquirer Opinion

Our dysfunctional foreign policy

Two recent events emphasize our dysfunctional foreign policy. The first event was the threat by President Duterte that he would abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement if the US did not guarantee the shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines. This act violates the rule in diplomacy that you should not needlessly create enemies. The US President does not have the authority to direct American businesses where they could sell their products. US businesses sell their products to the highest bidder. To get US vaccines, all one has to do is offer the highest bid. Instead of buying the expensive Sinovac, we could have diverted the funds to buy the cheaper US-made vaccine without offending anybody.

One week after Mr. Duterte’s pronouncement, we applied for loans with the World Bank to buy vaccines. In the United Nations, the rule is one country one vote; in the WB, voting is weighted by contribution. Thus, the US as the biggest stakeholder could have savaged our loan application. Meaning, the President again shot from the hip and did not consult the Department of Foreign Affairs on this issue.


The second event was the recent order of China to its coast guard to use force if deemed necessary in the South China Sea. As evidence of our false friendship with China, we were not consulted or informed. On this issue, we need allies. However, the President has just downgraded our Mutual Defense Treaty with the US by threatening to abolish the VFA.

We are indeed in strange company. In diplomacy, you align yourself with countries with similar goals. China and Russia are the major revisionist powers today, replacing Nazi Germany and Italy before World War II. They want to revise territorial boundaries set after World War II. We have no such goal. To make our policy compatible with Russia and China, we could revive our claim to Sabah.


The only way we can acquire Sabah under the UN charter is by peaceful means, that is, by plebiscite under the doctrine of self-determination. However, it is unlikely that the Sabah natives, who are mostly Muslims, will vote to join us. Further, it is also unlikely that Beijing and Moscow will support us on this issue. The obstacle is Mr. Duterte’s unpredictable diplomacy, as evidenced by the discussions at hand.

Thus, we have a mongrel national policy. We profess friendship in our foreign policy with China, a communist country, but locally our policy is the opposite. We are after communists, real and imaginary. Joseph Stalin pursued such policies before World War II. In the 1920s, Stalin reached an agreement with the Chinese Kuomintang Party to offset the Japanese threat to the USSR. He sacrificed Mao Tse Tung and the Communists.

Our policy on local communists contradicts our “friendly relations” with China. The recent initiatives of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the military to red-tag students and faculty of the major universities highlight the thrust of our policy on this issue. The confrontation with the students and faculty members of our universities will create an easy victory for Lorenzana. It reminds one of the tale of the general who has never won a battle, so he created imaginary enemies whom he could easily defeat so he could put in his bio-data that he is a great general.

Running after imaginary communists in college campuses, when there are many real communists in our domain—in the artificial islands constructed by Beijing in the West Philippine Sea—fits this description. One cannot help but wonder why Lorenzana is not doing anything about the presence of these real communists in our domain in the WPS that has been assigned to us under Unclos, but is instead running after our students.

Such disparity between our domestic and foreign policies cannot happen in a true democracy where such policies are done by consensus. It is only possible in authoritarian regimes where policy is decided based on the whims of the dictator. Our national policy follows this track; it is achieved not by consensus but simply on the whim of the President. More evidence that we are a failed democracy.


Hermenegildo C. Cruz is a retired career diplomat who served as ambassador to the United Nations, the Soviet Union, Bolivia, and Chile. He has a graduate degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Massachusetts, USA.

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