Friend to all, enemy to none

By Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M

President Bongbong Marcos summed up his foreign policy with this phrase, “friend to all, enemy to none”. Very catchy, but it is not immediately discernable how this actually stacks up to the constitutional prescription of pursuing an “independent foreign policy”. (Article II, Section 7)

More critically, it is not straightaway apparent how being chummy with all nations meets the charter’s command that with international relations, “the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.”

But at least, President Marcos tries to reflect these constitutional directives in his speeches and routine media releases. Unlike the previous president, who unashamedly brought our country to an inferior position in the world stage.

Admittedly, the implementation of this policy is most challenging when it comes to our dealings with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  Recall President Marcos congratulating the newly-elected president of Taiwan via X (Twitter), instead of the official channels. This was a calculated move given that we do not have any formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Beijing’s wolf-warrior approach to foreign relations led to an excessive reaction to this greeting. They even questioned President Marcos’ historical comprehension. The terse and direct response from Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was brilliant, though. Simply affirming that the PRC had nothing to be agitated about because we still adhered to our One China Policy. A clear demonstration of diplomacy and statesmanship.

Needless to say, the factual reporting of Chinese incursions in the West Philippines Sea must continue. Filipinos and the entire world must be properly informed of the unlawful acts perpetuated by foreign ships in our national territory. They must see for themselves the danger and difficulty that our soldiers and sailors overcome when defending the country against such aggressors.

President Marcos and the DFA have shown that the official government line should always be anchored on international law, first and foremost. Personal gripes, character attacks, racism, and slanderous labels must never be in the mix. Anything that moves our foreign engagement closer to a zero-sum scenario must be avoided.

Thus, it would be advisable for public officials to leave the fiery rhetoric and impassioned exchanges with Beijing to commentators and pundits. The official mindset should always be to appeal to the better angels of our regional neighbors. It is crucial not to lose sight of the fact that meaningful dialogue is still the better option than armed conflict.

However, a serious caveat must be mentioned here. Consciously trying to make no enemies, does not automatically mean there will be none. Other nations may be unfortunate to have a despot or tyrant at the helm. For these countries, war is always a distinct possibility. And just like every peace-loving nation in the globe, we must prepare for such an eventuality. This means maintaining a credible self-defense force.

Part of beefing up our national defense capability is forging alliances with other countries. This administration has pursued this path successfully. Pertinently, there is also now a determined ambition to upscale our own military wherewithal. But the road to this goal is not easy. Take for instance the enactment of the Self-Reliant Defense Posture Act.

This bill has passed third reading in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, our lawmakers are too busy bickering with each other. This disappointing display of partisan politics can further delay the enactment of this law. A stark reminder for us that our foreign policy, international relations, and national defense can be severely undermined by the very people we elect to Congress.

In sum, President Marcos’ foreign policy emanates from a very pragmatic assessment of the Philippines’ place in the world. At this stage, we need allies that can be depended upon for our economic growth and national defense.

But pragmatism also rejects overreliance on the goodwill of friendly nations, especially when it involves protecting our national territory and patrimony. And therefore, our foreign policy must also accommodate the plan to elevate our national defense capabilities.

Notably, the President cannot shoulder the responsibility of building a credible self-defense force alone. Civil society has an important role to fulfil here. And most critical of all, Congress must step up when legislative action is required. Which means, voters must never get tired of rousing lawmakers to focus on the task at hand.