On the architect of foreign policy

By Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M

The Senate is now urging the administration of President Bongbong Marcos to use the United Nations General Assembly to consolidate global pressure on China to cease and desist with its harassment of Filipino fishers in the West Philippine Sea.

Surprisingly, this move was initially opposed by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on the argument that this matter should be left to the President’s “diskarte”, being the chief diplomat of the country. President Marcos agreed, making this assertion to media: “Generally speaking, foreign policy is not set by the legislature. Generally speaking, foreign policy is left up to the executive.”

This view however, is not entirely correct.

It is true that in our system of government, the President, being the head of state, is regarded as the principal representative of our nation in the global community. Moreover, the executive branch, through various departments and agencies, deals with international relations and trade on a regular basis. Giving the President direct access to information and insights that may be vital in formulating foreign policy.

Naturally, the President is the primary organ of the state tasked to implement Article II, Section 7 which states: “The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relations with other states the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.”

But it must be noted that nothing in the 1987 Constitution ordains the President as the sole and exclusive author of foreign policy. The Supreme Court in the case of Pangilinan vs. Cayetano (ICC withdrawal case) ruled that, “The president, as primary architect of our foreign policy and as head of state, is allowed by the Constitution to make preliminary determinations on what, at any given moment, might urgently be required in order that our foreign policy may manifest our national interest.”

So clearly, the task of making sure our foreign policies reflect the national interest is not given to the President alone. Indeed, the “national interest” mandate leaves room for Congress to delve into matters pertaining to foreign policy, specifically in the areas of international relations and trade. Lawmakers can wield their fluence in this regard either through public declarations made individually or as a group, through official acts such as issuing a resolution, or through the exercise of their power of legislation.

The President’s first cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, stands as the perfect example of how lawmakers affect foreign policy formulation. He is always present in the President’s foreign trips and is literally always beside him. And then, he always issues his own statement of support to whatever the President said in the trip. For instance, in the recent ASEAN forum, the Speaker declared, “A united ASEAN working together for the observance of rules-based order in the South China Sea can exert considerable influence towards peaceful and diplomatic settlement of disputes which would be mutually beneficial for all concerned.”

More specifically though, senators are expected to provide wise counsel to the Chief Executive on matters pertaining to international relations. Recall the President’s treaty-making powers. Under the 1987 Constitution, he has the sole authority to negotiate and ratify treaties. But as per Article VII, Section 21, “no treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.” Indeed, the Supreme Court ruled that “effecting treaties is a shared function between the executive and the legislative branches”.

The participation of the legislative branch in the treaty-making process is essential to provide a check on the executive in the field of foreign relations. By requiring the concurrence of the Senate, the 1987 Constitution ensures adherence to an independent foreign policy. Correspondingly, senators are expected to be cognizant of world history, geopolitics, and global security. The public will want to see them exhibit a foreign policy wherewithal when they deliberate on matters of international importance.

In sum, lawmakers have a constitutional obligation to have their say in the formulation of foreign policy, even though the President has been designated as its chief architect. It is simply wrong to blindly defer to the Chief Executive in this regard for this would mean abandoning a constitutional responsibility.

More importantly, to disregard this mandate puts our foreign policy-making process at a great risk. Without the participation of legislators, our country’s dealings with other nations will ultimately be dependent on a single human being. The constitution certainly did not envisage the country being compromised in the world stage with this absurd scenario. Indeed, such is the bitter lesson we all learned under the previous administration.