Towards an Independent Philippine Foreign Policy


Professor Roland G. Simbulan

University of the Philippines & Vice Chair, Center for People’s Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg)

(Co-author’s message during the launching of the book, PROBING DUTERTE’S FOREIGN POLICY IN THE NEW REGIONAL ORDER: ASEAN, China and the U.S. by Temario Rivera, Roland Simbulan and Bobby Tuazon. University Hotel, UP Diliman, March 10, 2018)


FOREIGN POLICY is the most powerful instrument for a government determined to develop and secure its territory. Especially at this juncture of our history, both our internal and external policies should just have one, unified objective: to reclaim full Philippine control of its natural and human resources, finances, economic activities, state machinery, etc., so that we as Filipinos, can determine our path to development that can benefit the greatest number of our people. Foreign policy should be an instrument for national development and self-determination, not as a means for negotiated subservience.

MY CONTRIBUTED chapter in this book probes into Philippine decision-making on Philippine-U.S. Security Relations and the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea issues. The direction of Philippine-U.S. and Philippine-China relations will be the result of contentious struggle among various economic, political and security stakeholders and institutions in Philippine society which determine both domestic and foreign policies. I contend that many of these stakeholders and institutions were created by the United States and continue to shape, and still strongly influences them as part of the U.S. Empire-building project in the Asia-Pacific which started at the beginning of the 20th century.

FOR A long time already, many Philippine administrations since 1946, bowed to the impositions of the advocates of U.S. domination and its so-called globalization policies and swallowed the sugar-coated poison of liberalization, privatization and de-regulation. This has wreaked havoc on our national economy and has only brought further inequality and poverty to this country.

LONG BEFORE Pres. Rodrigo Duterte announced his “independent foreign policy”, the foundation for an independent foreign policy was enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. We can say that this constitutional policy directive was implemented by the Philippine Senate, when on Sept. 16, 1991, it voted to end the U.S. military presence on Philippine soil by voting to reject a new bases treaty that had been negotiated the previous year. The 1987 Constitution – which is now threatened to be amended – is founded on the principles of “self-determination”, absence of foreign military forces and bases, de-militarization and de-nuclearization.

THE 1987 CONSTITUTION is very clear about our foreign policy. The general direction of our foreign policy is clearly stated in Article 2, Sections 7, 8 and 19 of the Constitution:

Section 7: ” The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.”

Section 8: “The Philippines, consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.”

Section 19: ” The State shall develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos.”

TRANSPARENCY in foreign policy is also guaranteed in the treaty-making process: ” No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all Members of the Senate.”

IF THESE provisions are either erased or watered down when the Constitution is amended, we will be removing pro-Filipino and pro-national sovereignty provisions to tailor them to the neoliberal global constitution, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT).

THEY WILL also be tailored to the “global cop role” of the U.S. Armed Forces which does not respect any national boundaries of other nations.

ADMITTEDLY, what we missed to do is to develop a credible national defense force and capability for external security after the Philippine Senate terminated the Philippine-U.S. Military Bases Agreement in 1991. Thus, we have recoiled back to dependence on the United States for our security. In particular, the 1991 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the 2003 Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) have signaled a de-facto return of U.S. military presence in the Philippines, allowing the U.S. to build U.S. military facilities on Philippine soil. The U.S. has used these agreements to be involved in combat operations undertaken by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police. The agreements have also legitimized the construction of U.S. military infrastructure within Philippine territory for the sole use of the U.S. military for its global war machine.

NOW, under the executive agreement EDCA, the Philippines has opened its military bases and reservations for the construction of U.S. military facilities. These are in the following areas opened by the AFP for U.S. forces to establish U.S. military facilities and bases, in addition to the ones they have been using since 2003 in Southwestern Mindanao:

1. Antonio Bautista Air Base, near the Spratlys Islands, Palawan

2. The Basa Air Base in Pampanga

3. Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija

4. Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City

5. Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu

ACTIVITIES of U.S. personnel in the country, particularly their integration with Philippine military personnel in combat operations against internal threats to the government only continue the colonial tradition of the AFP as part of the U.S. Army’s Legions in the Asia-Pacific region.

U.S. FORCES in the Philippines play a regional and a global role as interventionary forces using the Philippines as a springboard and launching pad for the US’ military forces. Evidence suggesting the establishment of permanent, or long-term use facilities of US military personnel that are recognized even the U.S. government’s Overseas Basing Commission as “operating bases” of the US military, further indicates that US military presence in the country is not short term and not for the sake of simple training exercises as our current agreements with the U.S. specify.

THE YEARS after the VFA and the EDCA have seen the country gradually giving full access to the US global war machine in any part of Philippine territory. In Sept. 2017, the US has announced a new Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines for its US. military presence in the country. For reasons ranging from anti-terrorism to disaster relief and rehabilitation to the helplessness of the country in protecting Philippine interests in the South China Sea, US military forces are back in the country, and welcomed by the Duterte administration. Our constitutional ban on nuclear weapons is wantonly disregarded by US nuclear-armed and nuclear powered naval vessels and warplanes to which we have given unconditional access and transit. Have we forgotten that, unless we stand up for our national, economic, political and security interests as a sovereign nation, we cannot earn the respect of ASEAN and the rest of the world?

The 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea at The Hague, which was a resounding victory for the Philippines, is both a challenge and an opportunity.

A GENUINELY independent foreign policy is a policy that swears friendship to all and enmity to none, a policy that gives primacy to our national interests independent of the conflict between the Big Powers. It is a policy that, above all, refocuses our effort on the most urgent issue, that of accelerated economic growth to address mass poverty, on which all other sources of national strength depend. On the West Philippine Sea issue, we must ask ourselves, what is our strategic goal? The ideal strategic goal is for the Philippines to enjoy the friendship of the U.S., China and Japan, and not be a pawn in their inevitable conflicts.

OUR VISION for the Philippines is to become a respected, sovereign nation in the region, politically and economically. But if we play by the old rules of military alliances and confrontation, such as what prevailed during the US bases era of the Cold War, then the opportunity will be lost and no benefit in terms of genuine security or economic prosperity will be gained.

WE CAN look back to learn the hard lessons of colonial and neocolonial rule. Now, we can only move forward. Tulad ng isyu sa diktadurang Marcos, huwag na nating isubo pa ang isinuka na natin sa nakaraang panahon. (As with the Marcos dictatorship, let us not take in what we have already vomited or what we had already thrown out in the past.)

Maraming Salamat, at MABUHAY!

Roland G. Simbulan is an author, educator and scholar known for his active advocacy against nuclear power, nuclear weapons and U.S. military bases in the Philippines. He holds the Centennial Professorial Chair in Development Studies and Public Management at the University of the Philippines, Manila where he has been teaching since 1981. He is a former Faculty Regent of the U.P. Board of Regents, and former Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development at U.P. He is the author of The Bases of our Insecurity, A Guide to Nuclear Philippines, The Continuing Struggle for an Independent Philippine Foreign Policy, The Covert History of CIA Operations in the Philippines, and Forging a Nationalist Foreign Policy, among other works.

The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) is a public policy center established shortly before the May 2004 elections to help promote people empowerment in governance. Mindful of the elitist and patronage-driven character of the current electoral and political system in the country, CenPEG is especially advocating the democratic representation of the poor.

Note: The book is now available at Popular bookstore in Morato, Quezon City; the office of CENPEG(see website for address) and soon at National bookstore outlets.