Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
The May 2022 elections will not only give the Philippines a new leader. It will also be an opportunity to shift from this administration’s defeatist foreign policy stance to one that genuinely champions the interest of Filipinos.
Given the evolving security developments in the region, the Philippines must continue to reassess its policies to uphold national security and protect its strategic interests. This means crafting a comprehensive and long-term program anchored on modernizing the military, strengthening its present alliances, and re-pivoting foreign policy directions.
With the right leader who knows better than to continue President Duterte’s policy of acquiescence to China, we can push for a stronger and more responsive foreign and security policy built upon existing strategic partnerships with like-minded states, including the US, Australia, India, and Japan.
The results of the SWS survey commissioned by Stratbase and conducted last October are instructive.
Eighty-five percent of Filipino adults agreed that “The next President of the Philippines should form an alliance with other countries in defending the Philippines’ territorial and economic rights in the West Philippine Sea” (WPS).
In forming foreign security alliances, we must unite with trusted countries not only to assert our sovereign rights in the WPS but also to promote a rules-based regional order. The survey also reflected the countries/regional groupings we trust, namely the US (75 percent), Australia (62 percent), the UK (52 percent), Japan (53 percent), the European Union (42 percent), and India (22 percent). At the bottom is China, with a majority of 55 percent having “little trust” in the country.
The next government is expected to act proactively. Presented with the statement, “The next Philippine government should assert its right on the islands in the West Philippine Sea as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” eight out of 10 adult Filipinos or 82 percent agreed accordingly.
In leveraging existing and new alliances, bolstering a rules-based multilateral order among states lies in fostering collaborative alliances, like the AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) alliance, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD—US, India, Japan, Australia), and the US-Philippine alliance.
The recently held Summit for Democracy attended by 110 leaders and various stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society, signals a global call for collective action against the rise of authoritarianism that now threatens the democratic foundations and security of many nations. This international urgency to stand up against authoritarian forces is the spirit by which our government should forge strategic alliances with friendly countries to stop China’s unacceptable intrusions and expansionist moves in the region. This is an emerging challenge that the Philippines, together with many democratic states, can unite on in terms of positive actions to ensure regional stability and prosperity.
What should the next president do on the WPS issue? Filipinos want a president who will “Strengthen the military capability of the Philippines” (80 percent), “Conduct joint military patrols and military exercises with allied countries” (65 percent), and “Fully implement the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA” (58 percent). These are followed by the “Finalization of the Asean Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” (45 percent), and to “Bring the issue to the United Nations General Assembly” (40 percent).
Furthermore, 79 percent said that the “building of infrastructures on the vacant islands in the West Philippine Sea to assert our rights to these islands” is “Important.”
Our next leader must act to defend our sovereign rights in the WPS and assert our territorial integrity. That leader should initiate, strengthen, and leverage alliances with like-minded and trusted states through cooperative engagements. Our new president should upgrade the capacity of our armed forces and establish a clear, unequivocal physical presence on our islands in the WPS.
Defending our territory and security interests is central to the spirit of Filipino citizenship. As the SWS survey showed, we Filipinos feel strongly about protecting what is ours. We want a genuine leader who will defend us instead of kowtowing to a foreign power.
This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.