Founded on national interest, fortified by alliances | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Founded on national interest, fortified by alliances

/ 04:10 AM January 16, 2023

During President Marcos Jr.’s visit to China last week, Stratbase ADR Institute’s forum entitled “Prioritizing the National Interest in Philippine Foreign Policy: Strengthening Alliances and Strategic Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific,” where experts in the field of foreign policy and maritime defense discussed the most current geopolitical developments, was serendipitous.

Amid the numerous traditional and nontraditional threats faced by our country in the context of the Indo-Pacific region and the world, and amid many competing interests and agenda as the relatively new administration of Mr. Marcos finds its footing in the international community, what should really be driving our foreign policy?

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The logical, correct, and obvious answer is national interest. There are so many vested interests being pushed in the name of national interests, but most fundamental is to the people—what do Filipinos themselves say and feel?

At the forum, the president of Pulse Asia Research, Dr. Ronald Holmes, presented the findings of the most recent Stratbase-commissioned survey conducted from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2022, which revealed that 79 percent of the respondents, or about eight out of 10 Filipinos, specified that the Marcos Jr. administration should prioritize strengthening the Philippines’ military capability, especially the Navy and Coast Guard, and conduct joint maritime patrols and military exercises with allied countries.

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The three most trusted countries identified by the survey are the United States (84 percent), followed by Australia (79 percent), and Japan (78 percent). This high trust is also reflected by the respondents’ preference for the US (84 percent), Japan (52 percent), and Australia (25 percent) as the top allies that the Marcos Jr. administration should work with to strengthen security and defend our national sovereignty.

On the other hand, only 33 percent of respondents said they trusted China. It is not difficult to imagine how the defense of our maritime resources is seriously seen by Filipinos as rightly protecting what is ours and is strategically critical to sustainability and food security—indeed, gut issues.

Dr. Renato de Castro, trustee and program convenor at the Stratbase ADR Institute, said that both the United States and Japan have provided much-needed assistance to the Philippines in defending its territory and improving its maritime capabilities. Washington and Tokyo share common interests with the Philippines.

Retired US Air Force Col. Raymond Powell, who is now with the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University, said that with technology it is now possible to know about what is really going on in Philippine waters and revealed satellite images of how the Chinese Coast Guard blocked Philippine Coast Guard vessel on Dec. 8 at the Panatag Shoal, adding yet another incident of Chinese aggression.

Dr. Chester Cabalza, president and founder of the International Development and Security Cooperation, said the Indo-Pacific region is perceived to be the future of the world, and the countries in this region are poised to see economic prosperity in the future.

Still, he said, there are power shifts, transitions, and evolutions. There are signs of growing confrontation due to the challenge from rising powers—and the Philippines, being at the center of it all, is in a precarious position.

Not surprisingly, the speakers were wary about the expression “friend to many, enemy to none” which has been used many times by Mr. Marcos as his administration’s foreign policy. Basing our foreign policy decisions and actions on this would be extremely difficult—if not altogether impossible as protecting our national security against competing interests is the very nature of foreign relations.

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Every decision that our leaders make should always redound to the benefit of the nation. In the realm of diplomacy, this is neither easy nor painless. Foreign policy, territorial defense, and international politics—these are complex areas to navigate.

But if our leaders are constantly mindful of what is best for our people and are prudent in recognizing who among other countries are driven by the same principles and values, then we could pursue genuine alliances with like-minded states and help preserve mutual trust and relative peace amidst the evolving complications of these difficult times.

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Dindo Manhit is founder and CEO of the Stratbase Group.

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TAGS: Commentary, Dindo Manhit, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, National Interest, Philippine foreign policy
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