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Philippines - Foreign Relations

Spain governed the Philippines as a colony from 1521 until 1898. On June 12, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the Filipinos declared their independence. The United States claimed sovereignty over the Philippines under the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War, and governed the Philippines as a colony until 1935, when the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth. On July 4, 1946, the Philippines became an independent republic.

Philippine foreign relations are colored by the contradiction between subjective nationalism and objective dependency. After nearly seventy years of independence, Filipinos still view their national identity as undefined and see international respect as elusive. They chafed at perceived constraints on their sovereign prerogatives and resented the power of foreign business owners and military advisers. Yet, as a poor nation deeply in debt to private banks, multilateral lending institutions, and foreign governments, the Philippines had to meet conditions imposed by its creditors. This situation was galling to nationalists, especially because the previous regime had squandered its borrowed money. Filipinos also sought to achieve a more balanced foreign policy to replace the uncomfortably close economic, cultural, military, and personal ties that bound them to the United States, but this was unlikely to happen soon.

The Marcos years, from 1965 to 1986, were marked by policy innovations and then difficulties brought about by the excesses of the martial law regime. President Ferdinand Marcos redefined foreign policy as the safeguarding of territorial integrity and national dignity, and emphasized increased regional cooperation and collaboration. He stressed "Asianness" and pursued a policy of constructive unity and co-existence with other Asian states, regardless of ideological persuasion. In 1967, the Philippines launched a new initiative to form a regional association with other Southeast Asian countries called the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Philippines also normalized economic and diplomatic ties with China and the USSR, which President Marcos visited in 1975 and 1976, respectively. The Philippines also opened embassies in the eastern bloc countries, as well as a separate mission to the European Common Market in Brussels.

The EDSA Revolution in 1986 saw the re-establishment of a democratic government under President Corazon Aquino. During this period, the DFA once again pursued development diplomacy, in the active pursuit of opportunities abroad in the vital areas of trade, investment, finance, technology and aid. The Philippines became one of the founding members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November 1989, and an active player in regional efforts to establish the ASEAN Free Trade Area. In the 1990s, more diplomatic missions were established in the Middle East to improve existing ties with Arab states and to respond to the growing needs of Overseas Filipino workers in the region. In 1991, heeding the growing nationalist sentiments among the public, the Philippine Senate voted against the extension of the RP-U.S. Military Bases Agreement, thus putting to a close the decades-old presence of the U.S. military at Subic Bay and Clark Field.

Filipino nationalism, which is an important element of foreign policy, showed every sign of intensifying in the early 1990s. Diverse elements in Philippine society were united in opposition to their common history of foreign subjugation, and this opposition often carried an anti-American undertone. Leftists long held that Philippine history is a story of failed or betrayed revolutions, with native compradors selling out to foreign invaders. In the post-Marcos years, this thesis received wide acceptance across the political spectrum. The middle class was deeply disillusioned because five successive United States administrations had acquiesced to Marcos's dictatorship, and Filipino conservatives nursed grievances long held by the left.

The Ramos administration from July 1992 to June 1998 defined the four core priorities of Philippine foreign policy namely: the enhancement of national security, promotion of economic diplomacy, protection of overseas Filipino workers and Filipino nationals abroad, and the projection of a good image of the country abroad. Among the significant events in foreign affairs during the Ramos years were: the adoption by ASEAN in 1992, upon Philippine initiative, of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea aimed at confidence-building and avoidance of conflict among claimant states; the establishment of the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines (BIMP)-East Asia Growth area in 1994; the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1994 as the only multilateral security dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region conducted at the government level; and the signing between the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front on 2 September 1996 of the Mindanao Peace Agreement.

In its foreign policy, the Philippines cultivates constructive relations with its Asian neighbors, with whom it is linked through membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), ASEAN Plus Three (with China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM), the East Asia Summit (EAS), and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. The Philippines chaired ASEAN from 2006 to 2007, hosting the ASEAN Heads of State Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. The Philippines is a member of the UN and some of its specialized agencies, and served a 2-year term as a member of the UN Security Council from 2004-2005, acting as UNSC President in September 2005. Since 1992, the Philippines has been a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The government is seeking observer status in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The Philippines has played a key role in ASEAN in recent years, ratifying the ASEAN Charter in October 2008, and is serving as the Country Coordinator for the United States with ASEAN until mid-2012. The Philippines also values its relations with the countries of the Middle East, in no small part because hundreds of thousands of Filipinos are employed in that region. Protecting the welfare of the some four million to five million overseas Filipino contract workers is considered to be a pillar of Philippine foreign policy.

The Philippines signed its first bilateral free trade agreement in 2006 with Japan under the Japan Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA). The Philippines has also begun implementing preferential rates under the ASEAN trade in goods agreement (ATIGA), ASEAN-China, ASEAN-Korea, and ASEAN-Australia New Zealand Free Trade Areas.

The fundamental Philippine attachment to democracy and human rights is reflected in its foreign policy. Philippine soldiers and police have participated in a number of multilateral civilian police and peacekeeping operations, and a Philippine Army general served as the first commander of the UN Peacekeeping Operation in East Timor. The Philippines had peacekeepers deployed in many UN peacekeeping operations worldwide. The Philippines participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, deploying some 50 troops to Iraq in 2003. (These troops were subsequently withdrawn in 2004 after the kidnapping of a Filipino overseas worker.)

A member of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Philippines does not always agree with the US in foreign affairs and frequently does not vote the same way that as the US in international fora. The Philippines continued to pursue observer status with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, hopeful that this would facilitate its peace process with the MILF and provide the government more influence for the protection of the millions of overseas Filipino workers in OIC countries. Nevertheless, the Philippines has been a valuable partner on high-priority regional issues. The Philippines remained a vocal supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi and others working for democracy and human rights in Burma. The Philippines also has been a strong ally in condemning provocative and destabilizing acts by North Korea. Usefully, the Philippines has pressed ASEAN to take a stronger line on both Burma and North Korea.

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) is a key foreign policy concern. Over 1 million Filipinos leave the country each year for short-term contracts abroad, primarily in the Middle East. The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 (R.A. 8042) provided a framework for stronger protection of Filipino workers abroad, with the creation of the Legal Assistance Fund and the Assistance-to-Nationals Fund, and the designation in the DFA of a Legal Assistant for Migrant Workers' Affairs, with the rank of Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs.

The UK and the Philippines enjoy a close and substantive bilateral relationship. Areas of common concern include climate change, human rights, economic reform, good governance, counter terrorism, conflict prevention and peace building. Trade and investment links are strong.

China is also increasingly important as both a trading partner and a source of development assistance. There is an established Chinese-Filipino community in the Philippines and Chinese interest is welcomed as a counterbalance to US influence. Tensions remain however over the Spratly Islands, where the two countries have competing territorial claims.

"I am a president of a sovereign state and we have long ceased to be a colony. I do not have any master except the Filipino people. Nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements," Duterte warned, as he prepared to fly to the ASEAN summit in Laos 05 Spetember 2016. The new leader of the Philippines seemed to be advising Washington and the world not to challenge him over extrajudicial killings. Duterte took office in July 2016 promising a brutal war against drug dealers and criminals. He's kept that promise. Official and vigilante death squads murdered more than a 2,400 people in his first two months in office.

He once told the entire nation of Singapore to fuck off. “You're a garrison pretending to be a country,” he said in November 2015. He routinely calls United Nations officials the sons or daughters of whores, and he also said "fuck you" to the entire organization, in June 2016. Then he called Pope Francis the son of a whore, after the holy man's motorcade caused traffic jams in Manila.

“I burned the flag of Singapore. I said: ‘Fuck you … You are a garrison pretending to be a country.'” — Duterte in a November 2015 speech, recalling how in 1995 he burned a Singapore flag to protest at the execution of a Filipina maid in the city-state.

Duterte said 14 Septembwer 2016 that the Philippines would look to China and Russia for the acquisition of new weapons and armaments as he vowed to push through with the modernization of the Armed Forces. The Philippines had not acquired any military equipment from China or Russia in recent years. Its recent acquisitions under the modernization program are from Israel (armored personnel carriers), South Korea (FA50 aircraft), US (rifles, Coast Guard cutters, armored personnel carriers), US and Canada (Bell helicopters), Spain (C295 transport plane), and Poland (Sokol helicopters), among others. Duterte said Russia and China have offered to give the Philippines the “softest loan,” payable by 2025, for military equipment.

Saying that he is about to cross the Rubicon in his administration’s diplomatic policies with the United States, President Duterte said 27 September 2016 that the country’s alliances with the American rivals in global power China and Russia will be strengthened. Duterte said the alliance being planned with Russia and China will be economic and not military oriented. “I’ll open up the Philippines for them to have business alliances of trade and commerce. There will never be a time on the matter of military alliances,” Duterte said. Duterte said the two countries have agreed “to give me the softest loan, payable in 20-25 years.” “It told them, I want weaponry and armaments,” Duterte said.

Duterte, however, in explaining his statement said it does not mean total degrading of relations with the United States only it will mean stronger alliances with China and Russia. Duterte said he finds it problematic that, despite defense treaties with the US, there are no assurances it will come to the Philippines’ aid when war comes. “You know, there is an RP-US Pact that was done in the 1950s saying an attack on the Philippines will be an attack on the United States but in the US constitution it says that before a president can declare war with anybody in defense of an ally, he has to go to Congress for permission to go to war. That is the problem. So if the US Congress will not give him authority, what will happen to us?” Duterte said.

While taking a slightly more conciliatory stance on the US, on 21 October 2016 Duterte did not hesitate to take the opportunity to unleash his sharp tongue on the EU, however. “EU, no wonder you are in shambles now. You cannot even agree to be together or not. Whether to form still a European community or disintegrate. Why? Because all your lawyers are all stupid and idiots. ... Your euro, that’s a piece of paper”. Duterte once responded to the EU with “F**k you” after it sharply criticized him for his anti-drugs campaign, which has seen over 4,400 people killed since July 2016, according to police statistics.

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Page last modified: 05-01-2017 18:57:07 ZULU