THE country swings like a pendulum between the United States and China, giving the impression that the Philippines has no coherent foreign policy, a senior diplomat said Saturday.
“What we should avoid in our foreign policy is to swing like a pendulum, swinging in one instance to the US and in another to China,” said former Philippine ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja in an interview with radio dzMM. “It seems there’s no clarity or coherence in our foreign policy.”
In the last few weeks, President Rodrigo Duterte has let loose with a barrage of anti-American rhetoric while building ties with China—leaving his Cabinet members to smooth the ruffled feathers of the country’s long-standing ally.
During a state visit to China earlier this month, Duterte announced the Philippines’ separation from the US, saying that Washington had treated Manila unfairly.
He later clarified that he was not severing ties with America, just Manila’s foreign policy alignment with Washington. Economic officials scrambled to assure the public that trade relations would remain the same.
During his state visit, Duterte did not raise the decision of a United Nations tribunal that declared Beijing had no historic rights to the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.
But Baja said Duterte should not set aside the country’s victory against China before the UN international court.
“It’s okay to talk to China, but always in the context of our victory, even without mentioning the arbitral decision,” Baja said.
Filipino fishermen have been able to return to Scarborough Shoal, a disputed area that the Philippines claims by virtue of its exclusive economic zone. The Chinese Coast Guard has occupied the disputed territory since 2012, but now seem to allow Filipino fishermen to return following Duterte’s visit to China.
House Deputy Minority Leader Harry Roque Jr., meanwhile, said Duterte showed his independence when he refused to put in writing that China has agreed to allow Filipino fishermen to fish again in Scarborough Shoal.
“We do not want the word ‘allow’ and ‘permit’ to be used by China because the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal is that Filipinos and Chinese and Vietnamese can look forward to the Scarborough Shoal as traditional fishing grounds,” said Roque, who was part of the delegation to China early this month.
Roque also said that while the country wants to attract foreign investments, it must be careful that local procurement laws are respected, and that its partners are reputable.
In the case of China, Roque said, three potential partners had a shady track record dealing with the Philippines--China Road and Bridge Corp., China CAMC Engineering and CCCC Dredging Co.
Roque said the China Road and Bridge Corp. was the company that was responsible for the Catanduanes Circumferential Road, which he questioned on behalf of his client, former Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya.
Roque said China CAMC Engineering is, in fact, a subsidiary of Sinomach, which he sued for invalidating the North Rail contract.
“I also witnessed a memorandum of understanding signing with CCCC Dredging Co., and I hope I am wrong but from the brochure, it seemed CCCC Dredging is also the same company responsible for the building of the artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea,” Roque said.
“So we need to be on guard. We need foreign investments, but we need to make sure, too, that our laws, particularly our procurement law, are respected to the letter,” he said.
Roque also said that he heard Duterte discuss the West Philippine Sea with the China’s Premier
As for pursuing talks on the West Philippine Sea, he said he personally heard the President discuss this matter with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang
“The President brought it up. He said that we have our disagreement over the West Philippine Sea, I come here not to quarrel about it but I’m saying that we need to resolve this soon,” Roque said.
Also over the weekend, the leftist youth group Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (Spark) lambasted former President Benigno Aquino III for claiming that the country had an independent foreign policy during his term.
Aquino made the statement when he broke his silence on Duterte’s decision to separate the country’s foreign policy from the United States.
“Is it possible that Aquino may have suffered from selective amnesia since stepping down from the Palace three months ago? Need we remind him of instances he preferred to shun the pleadings and protestations of the people during his six year tenure?” the group said.
The group added that Aquino might be “one of the most subservient of all the past presidents, probably second only to Ferdinand Marcos or Ramon Magsaysay.” With Sandy Araneta
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