MANILA, Philippines – The Duterte administration’s independent foreign policy is “off track” and will need to be revisited or the Philippines risks losing the confidence of long-time “friends” who had helped in the country’s development, a former top diplomat said.
Commenting for the first time on the matter, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday the country’s seeming pivot to China at the expense of the US and European Union will not work.
“I’d like to think that the foreign affairs strategy has driven off track a bit,” Del Rosario said in an unscheduled speech.
“We need to revisit the off track direction that is driving the new so-called independent foreign policy,” he said during the closing remarks of a forum hosted by his think tank, the Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies.
Del Rosario, who was once also the country’s ambassador to the US, relayed that he had been asked many times by members of the diplomatic community about the current administration’s friendlier approach to China.
On top of that, he said the foreign affairs corps do not understand why the Philippines is “suddenly distancing itself” from the US, its “treaty ally who has worked specifically on promoting the rule of law.”
It was under Del Rosario when the Philippines sued and won against China before the international arbitration court over its nine-dash line claim in the West Philippine Sea.
However, President Duterte has decided to become more cordial to China, but not without putting Philippines’ relations with the US in jeopardy.
In his latest tirade, Duterte yesterday claimed the US has manipulated the foreign exchange rate to weaken the peso to a seven-year low against the dollar. His budget chief Benjamin Diokno has, however, rebutted this.
“I think this foreign policy of equating US vis-a-vis China should not be a zero-sum game,” Del Rosario said. “In foreign affairs, you try to get as many friends as possible. You don’t get one friend at the expense of another friend. Playing a zero-sum game is illogical and we should get away from this.”
He said the country’s foreign policy is driven by “our democratic ties.”
“It must be principled, it must be independent and it must follow the rule of law.”
Part of that, Del Rosario said, is respect for human rights, which is not only an international norm but also a prerequisite for some of the development aid the Philippines gets from its donors like the US.
He also questioned whether Duterte has discussed his foreign policy thrust thoroughly to touch on possible economic repercussions of moving away from the US and the EU.
For instance, he cited the $4 billion raised over the last three years as well as the $140 million in US military aid tied to a condition of respect for human rights.
On both the US and EU, Del Rosario cited the general system of preferences, where around $800 million of benefits had been recorded in terms of preferable access to trade.
“We will lose that,” he said.
“I’m saying that has anyone in government sat down to calculate the probable loss of economic benefits if we pursue the foreign policy we are currently pursuing in the name of an independent foreign policy?”
The former foreign affairs chief warned of a possible loss of confidence should the Duterte government pursue its current foreign policy track.
“Confidence has been restored in our country in an immense amount. Let’s not lose it,” he said.
Duterte foreign policy ‘unfortunate,’ says ex-DFA chief Del Rosario
THINK-TANK: INVESTORS SKITTISH ABOUT “INDEPENDENT” FOREIGN POLICY
September 28th, 2016
MANILA — “Unfortunate.” This was former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario’s assessment of the policy direction being pursued by the Duterte administration, as the think-tank named after him claimed investors would be deterred by a supposedly “independent” foreign policy.
“I think they should review what they mean by an ‘independent’ foreign policy. It should not be a zero-sum game,” Del Rosario told reporters on the sidelines of an economic forum organized by the Stratbase-ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies Wednesday.
In a speech, ADR Institute president Dindo Manhit said President Duterte’s foreign policy “risks alienating its major economic partners and creating an unwelcoming environment to foreign investors.”
“The country can pursue its independence without squandering its hard-earned, advantageous relationships with other countries. The government’s new stance must be calibrated to ensure that it does not compromise the administration’s ten-point plan and the Philippines’ overall economic security,” the ADR Institute said in a statement.
For Manhit, “the Philippines can keep its friends while making new ones.”
Agreeing with Manhit, Del Rosario told reporters: “I think we should go back and consider that our foreign policy must be deeply rooted, and therefore, we must have foreign policy that is principled, independent, and in accordance with the rule of law.”
“It is principled when it is anchored on democracy and freedom, good governance, respect for human rights, and in accordance with the rule of law. It is independent when national interest is first and foremost and when national interest is defined and promoted in accordance with our values,” Del Rosario added.
Del Rosario said other diplomats were puzzled why there was a shift in the foreign policy.
“I was asked by the foreign diplomatic community this particular question: Why is the Philippines distancing itself from its treaty ally who has worked specifically on promoting the rule of law, which is to the advantage of the Philippines, vis-à-vis why is the Philippines suddenly embracing a country that has been blatantly violating the rule of law to its disadvantage?”
For Del Rosario, it was a “difficult question to answer.”
“I like to think that the foreign affairs strategy may be driven off-track a bit and perhaps we can persuade this government to revisit the off-track direction that is driving the so-called new foreign policy,” Del Rosario said.
The former foreign affairs chief also warned that the Philippines might lose bilateral trade perks being enjoyed as well as grants from the US and the European Union.
“In terms of our current arrangements, in the last three years alone, from 2012 to 2015, we had a development assistance that we were able to raise of over $4 billion. We would lose that. We have foreign military finance from the United States of $140 million in 2016. These have conditionalities: when they go to US Congress, these have conditionalities. Respect for human rights is one conditionality. We would lose that. The GSP with the United States we utilize about $800 million. We would lose that. The GSP with EU, we will lose that,” del Rosario pointed out.
For Del Rosario, the most important thing that the past administration had left the Filipino people was an “immense amount of confidence,” adding: “Let’s not lose it.”
Asked if the Duterte administration’s foreign policy could still be tweaked, Del Rosario said: “We can always change our course for the betterment of the Filipino people and in accordance with national interest.”
As for the plan to pursue closer ties with China, Del Rosario said “it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game; you can pursue the friendship of other nations without having to sacrifice those who all the time had been there to help us.”
The ADR Institute said “the government’s warming up with China signal a quick break from the United States and is unfortunate.”
“It is one thing for the administration to downplay the arbitral tribunal’s favorable ruling, out of a fear of possible retribution. It is another thing entirely to halt patrols with the United States and limit them to a minimal 12-nautical mile distance—far less than the full 200-nautical mile spread of the country’s exclusive economic zone,” the think-tank said. The ADR Institute was referring to the victory of the Philippines at the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, which recognized the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines in the South China Sea and set aside China’s nine-dash claim.
“By taking such drastic steps, the administration gives the impression of swinging wildly and insincerely instead of taking smaller, but more meaningful steps toward friendly relations,” ADR Institute said.
“Being careful with pronouncements and calibrated with government actions will send a more meaningful signal not only to China, but also to all of the Philippines’ international partners. Such care will help the president and his team achieve the Philippines’ foreign policy objectives,” Manhit said. SFM
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Tags: Albert del Rosario, China, del Rosario, democratic ties, Duterte, European Union, exclusive economic zone, foreign affairs corps do not understand why the Philippines is “suddenly distancing itself” from the US, human rights, Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, Philippines, Philippines-US relationship, private investment, rule of law, South China Sea, Stratbase-ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies, U. S., West Philippine Sea