At the February 8 Pandesal Forum with media at Kamuning Bakery Café in Quezon City, it was the consensus of various geopolitics and economics analysts that President Rody Duterte’s independent foreign policy of balancing Philippine diplomacy with a pivot to Russia and China has numerous strategic and socio-economic benefits, and it safeguards the country from the danger of a possible nuclear attack during a conflict between rival superpowers.
The analysts said that not only has this reform in foreign policy direction gained new trading partners and allies such as the world’s second largest economy China and energy superpower Russia, Duterte’s independent foreign policy has gained record-high economic gains from traditional ally Japan and also expected to boost USA’s traditional ties with the Philippines under new President Donald Trump.
The geopolitics and economics experts who shared their multi-disciplinary analyses were General Victor Corpus, former Senator Francisco Tatad, former Undersecretary Butch Valdes, analyst Rod Kapunan, ex-diplomat Ado Pagkalinawan, Catholic University of Louvain graduate and strategic analyst Celso Cainglet, Phil-Brics Strategic Studies, Inc. founder Herman T. Laurel, and the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI) director, Wharton-educated economist and geopolitics analyst George T. Siy.
The experts said that an independent foreign policy is mandated in the Philippine constitution, that President Duterte is the only Philippine leader in modern times to have upheld this policy not only in terms of balanced and pragmatic diplomacy to make the country an equidistant friend of all major powers, this policy also seeks to uphold the all-important goal of economic sovereignty.
The analysts said that President Duterte’s reform of seeking neutrality of the Philippines with regards to the strategic rivalry and possible military conflict between the big powers USA and China, USA and Russia will ensure the long-term safety of the Philippines from any nuclear attack by the powers, in the same way most Asean countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and others are not militarily tied up with or strategically beholden to any of the major powers.
The analysts said the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the U.S. was signed in 1951 at the height of the Cold War between the capitalist countries and Communist countries, but the world has changed a lot since then and the Cold War ended in 1991, but the country’s leaders had failed to renegotiate the Mutual Defense Treaty and to reform Philippine foreign policy directions.
The experts said that in March 2015 at the highest point of the tensions over the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea controversy the SWS conducted a survey of the Filipino public sentiment over the prospect of armed conflict between the Philippines and China. The survey showed that 84% of the Filipino public were “worried” about armed conflict with China and half of the people were “worried a great deal”. This is the wisdom of the Filipino people speaking, a sentiment President Rodrigo R. Duterte respects.
In September 2016 President Duterte set the new pro-Philippines direction, “We will observe and I must insist – I repeat, I must insist – on the time honored principles of sovereign equality, non-interferen ce and commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes to best serve our people…”
President Duterte launched the Philippines’ Independent Foreign Policy (IFP) with uniquely Filipino characteristics, re-opening bilateral dialogue with China which immediately bagged $ 25-Billion of investments, soft loans and assistance from China, boosted tourism and agricultural exports.
China’s initiative and prompted other other competing countries such as Japan playing to play catch up and offering $ 19-Billion of its own funding and support to the Philippines. President Duterte’s IFP has also opened the huge potential markets of Russia for Philippine agricultural exports and imports of 4-million barrels of cheaper Iranian oil.
The normalization of ancient close ties with China also brings the Philippines a special seat on the gigantic 21st Century “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) project of infrastructure, communication, innovation and trade links that cross from Asia to Europe and back to Asia via the sea, and the Philippines offers the unique prospect of making that New Silk Road circumnavigate the global as OBOR’s eastern hub to the Pacific.
The experts at the Pandesal Forum said that the Philippines under Spanish colonial rule was an entrepot between the robust China trade with Mexico, Spain and Europe via the fabled “Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade”, that the new independent foreign policy of President Duterte can revive this strategic trade importance of the Philippines via the China-led trans-continental “One Belt, One Road” project.
As part of efforts to diversify sources of economic support, the Philippines’ new independent foreign policy reform can also help expand the country’s source of huge infrastructure development funding through the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure International Bank (AIIB) of which even many USA allies Canada, South Korea and Germany are also already founding members.
Most important of all is the crucial emerging role the Philippines now plays under President Rodrigo R. Duterte as the Pivot for Peace in the Asia-Pacific, being the fulcrum for the balance-of-power in a Multi-Polar World, especially this year 2017 when the Philippines is assuming the role as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).