Change is wanting: Dutertenomics and foreign policy

A multipolar but still dependent foreign policy

One of the most fascinating aspects of President Duterte has been his anti-US rehetoric. Save for Andres Bonifacio and probably Emilio Aguinaldo, Duterte is the only Philippine president who has openly defied the United States and expressed the intention of adopting an independent foreign policy.

Such a policy is based on key considerations of national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination. In more practical terms, the question is: how will our relations with other countries help us defend and exercise sovereignty over our territory, develop a modern, sustainable, industrial economy, and achieve a self-reliant defense posture? 

A year into his term, Duterte has yet to clearly articulate these various aspects of his independent foreign policy.

For one, his anger with the US and EU stems mainly from their valid criticism of the extrajudicial killings due to the war on illegal drugs. And while Duterte repeatedly cites the US' historical crimes against the Moro people, he has done nothing to correct the injustices nor to stop American intervention in the Mindanao conflict.

Thus, except for scrapping joint patrols with the US in the West Philippine Sea and scaling down joint amphibious exercises, nothing much has changed in PH-US relations. US troops continue to be stationed in various parts of the country. The annual Balikatan exercises, as well as the construction of US military facilities in “agreed locations” under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), are proceeding as usual. There is no serious effort to end the AFP's continuous dependence on US military training, technology, arms and equipment.

As the war in Marawi shows, US involvement in the Philippine military is too deep for Duterte to challenge without getting into trouble with the AFP itself. He knows that if he pushes too hard, he might be faced with a US-supported coup. This has reduced his anti-US posturing to merely that.

The good thing is that Duterte is warming up to America's main rivals, China and Russia. This is a wise move considering the multipolar world that is now developing.

However, can Duterte establish stronger relations with these two superpowers without falling into the same neocolonial trap we find ourselves with the US?

In other words, can we prevent China or Russia from treating us like a neocolony the way the US did – to be used as a dumping ground for their excess goods; a source of cheap labor, raw materials and semi-manufactures for their industries; a loyal paying borrower for their banks; and an enduring military outpost in Southeast Asia?

Considering Duterte's manner of buttering up to China, we might be in for more of the same. Instead of having only one master (the US), we might end up having two (the US and China) or even 3 (the US, China, and Russia).

Change is wanting

Despite positive efforts, the President has failed to depart significantly from the neoliberal economic policies of previous governments.

He has also tried but failed to recalibrate our dependent, neocolonial relations with the US, and appears intent on merely replicating the same with China and Russia.

All this leads to more doubts on his promise of change. –

Teddy Casiño served as the party-list representative of Bayan Muna for 3 terms, from 2004 to 2013. Prior to his stint in Congress, he was secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and a columnist for BusinessWorld.