A continuing quest for freedom

June 12, 2023

by IBON Foundation

The 1987 Constitution says that the State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. Yet while no president will say that they are for dependent foreign policy, their actions always say something else.

Foreign policy is a powerful instrument for national development and self-determination. It should be wielded to secure the Philippines and develop its territory and people using all the resources within it. It should be shaped by our own political, economic, and diplomatic interests.

It is not a tool for ensuring our subservience to foreign powers. Too many Philippine governments just speak rhetorically while constantly failing to make the choices that assert sovereignty and independence, or that assert social and economic development.

The Marcos Jr administration’s rapid and extensive pivot back to the United States (US) especially after former president Duterte’s dalliance with China is the most obvious.

The most visible aspect is in the security realm with the administration giving the US military more bases and making the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) & Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) much more intrusive and expansive with new Bilateral Defense Guidelines. These make the Philippines a cog in the US’s global war machine and make us an inevitable party to all its imperialist acts of aggresssion — which are many, constant, and have already victimized tens of millions of civilians around the world.

Perhaps less visible but with an importance grossly disproportionate to its visibility is how the Philippine economy has been shaped to become a mere cog in the global supply chains of the world’s largest and most powerful capitalist powers. The country has always been seen as supplier of cheap labor and raw materials, a captive market, and a profitable outlet for surplus capital. It has been so since our flag independence in 1946 and in the decades of neocolonial dependence since.

The US is now among those seeking to use recent laws further opening up the economy as profitable opportunities at the expense of national economic development — or, as the 1987 Constitution puts it, “a self-reliant and independent national economy”. The amended Public Services and Foreign Investment Acts, Retail Trade Liberalization, and tax-cutting CREATE Law all make the Philippines more profitable for foreign capital. Yet these laws and the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028, which remain stuck in an obsolete neoliberal globalization framework, prevent the real agricultural progress and national industrialization that is so essential for the country.

Our foreign policy is for the security and development of the people, most of all. It should uphold peace over militarism, sovereignty over aggression, and development over empire.

Independence Day spurs us to correct long-standing imperialist domination of Philippine foreign policy. Current circumstances of multipolarity and relative US decline give us even greater opportunity for independent foreign policy, even as geopolitical flashpoints and economic crises make doing this more urgent.

The Philippines can pursue a policy of non-alignment starting with ending US military presence and all agreements. We can transform our long history of neocolonialism and movements for national liberation into moral and political authority to be among those leading the revival of an international non-aligned movement. Among the concerns that can be taken up are to demilitarize the West Philippine Sea. These outcomes would be natural if Philippine foreign policy was people-centered and genuinely upheld sovereignty.###