After being proclaimed as the 17th President of the Philippines through a landslide victory in the May 9, 2022 elections, incoming President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has laid down the foreign policy direction of his administration—an independent one where the country would be a friend to everyone and an enemy to no one.
“I think we have to find an independent foreign policy where we are friends with everyone, that’s the only way. We have to be good neighbors and we asked them to be good neighbors to us as well. It is of mutual benefit to us,” Marcos said.
With the ongoing maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea, Marcos, who has yet to name his secretary of Foreign Affairs, said having better relations would be more judicious as the countries involved are the Philippines’ closest neighbors.
He said China, on its closest part, is only 600 kilometers away from his province, Ilocos Norte.
He emphasized the importance of forging partnerships with neighboring countries and not allowing the territorial dispute to fester and escalate into a severe problem as the West Philippine Sea is a critical part of trade routes for shipping in the region.
“The partnerships that we make within the region, with ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], are going to be of critical importance. And that’s why we have to forge partnerships,” the incoming President said.
“It will be the partnerships that will keep things stable.”
Marcos, however, assured his administration will not cede a single square millimeter of the country’s maritime and coastal territories.
“Considering in the West Philippine Sea that there have been these conflicts, we will not allow a single square millimeter of our maritime, coastal up to 200 meters rights to be trampled upon,” he said.
“How do we do that? We talk to China consistently in a firm voice …We continue to discuss with them the conflicting claims that we have with China and that China has with other ASEAN members.”
“We need to continue having bilateral contact and communication with China. This is what I mentioned when I talked to President Xi (Jinping) when he called me to congratulate me on winning the elections. I said we have to continue to talk about this. This cannot be allowed to fester and to become more severe in terms of a problem between our two countries,” he added.
Marcos said the arbitral ruling issued by a United Nations tribunal in The Hague which favored the Philippines can be used to assert the country’s territorial rights in the WPS.
During the campaign, Marcos laid down the foundation for his so-called “pro-Philippines” independent foreign policy that would always place the national interest of Filipinos and country at its core.
“Well, it’s very simple in my mind. I don’t work for Washington D.C. and I don’t work for Beijing. I work for the Philippines,” he said.
“You cannot afford mistakes or misjudgments or lack of understanding when it comes to the Department of Foreign Affairs when it comes to foreign policy. We have to get it absolutely right,” he added.
Marcos earlier had a phone conversation with United States President Joe Biden where both leaders agreed to further strengthen the ties between Manila and Washington.
“The Philippines has always held the United States in high regard as a friend, an ally, and a partner,” Marcos said.
In a statement, the White House said: “President Biden underscored that he looks forward to working with the president-elect to continue strengthening the US-Philippine Alliance while expanding bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues, including the fight against COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, promoting broad-based economic growth, and respect for human right.”
US State Secretary Anthony Blinken also acknowledged the two countries’ relations that are “rooted in a long and interwoven history, shared values and interests, and people-to-people ties.”
“As friends, partners and allies, we will continue to collaborate closely with the Philippines to promote respect for human rights and to advance a free and open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific region,” Blinken said.
In his talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the other hand, Marcos said “the centuries-old relationship and friendship of the Philippines and China has been and will continue to be of great mutual benefit to our people, from trade, arts, culture, athletics to regional peace and stability to the employment of opportunities for our people, and all the significantly generous efforts extended to us during the pandemic, the cooperative partnership of our donations continue to reach new heights.”
“China and the Philippines are neighbors linked by the sea and partners that have stood together through hardships. In recent years, with the joint efforts from both sides, China-Philippines relationship has been strengthened and elevated, bringing benefits to the peoples of our two countries and making contributions to regional peace and stability,” Xi said.
Xi said China and the Philippines are “both at a critical stage of development, posing important opportunities and broad prospects for our bilateral relations.”
“I am ready to build a good working relationship with you to preserve our good neighborliness, work for common development and deepen our Relationship of Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation so as to bring benefits to our two countries and two peoples,” Xi said.
And with the world recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the bilateral partnerships that the Philippines will forge will also play a major role, the incoming 17th President said.
“As I told the ambassadors, as we emerge from the pandemic, we have to form alliances because no countries can recover or change the geopolitical situation on their own,” he said.
Political analyst Professor Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit said Marcos’ call for “unity,” which he conveyed throughout the campaign period, will also be tested against circumstances on the ground, especially on critical issues such as the territorial and maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
“Formulating and implementing a foreign policy includes the participation of domestic and international actors along with their priorities and interests. The interplay between these actors enables the government to create a framework that will systematically guide the state in navigating the international system,” Manhit said.
He noted that the “independent” foreign policy pursued by the outgoing administration has led to a significant shift in focus and direction.
“Filipinos deserve and expect the Marcos presidency to execute not only a strategically responsive foreign policy but also a clear, comprehensive, and consistent national security agenda that will not compromise Philippine interests,” Manhit said.