The Manila Times : BBM's foreign policy must be assertive – experts

By Kaithreen Cruz | The Manila Times

POLITICAL experts have advised President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos to immediately establish his difference from the outgoing administration in the critical areas of foreign policy and maritime security.

Speaking at a virtual town hall organized by the think-tank Stratbase ADR Institute, the experts said Marcos must have a more assertive, responsive and strategic foreign policy, especially in the West Philippine Sea, where tensions have been ratcheted up by repeated Chinese incursions in the country's exclusive economic zone and China's harassment of Filipino fishermen.

Stratbase ADR Institute President Prof. Victor Andres Manhit said the Marcos administration must not only uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity but also foster multilateral, inclusive cooperation through alliances and strategic partnerships.

"Our territorial right in the West Philippine Sea is no longer just a claim. After July 2016, or when the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in our favor, that claim became a right given to us under a rules-based international system," Manhit said.

He also said that a fundamental change that could be adopted by the Marcos administration is to shift from the deteriorating old order into a multi-polar world where states are economically, geographically and strategically interconnected.

"We need a more responsive and strategic foreign policy that would implement a clear, cohesive, and consistent foreign policy direction and develop the country's comprehensive power according to its military, economic, scientific and cultural capabilities," he said.

International Development and Security Cooperation President and founder Dr. Chester Cabalza suggested a turn to multilateralism, given the volatility in the Philippines' maritime domain and lack of an anchoring policy on defense cooperation with like-minded states.

Cabalza said that if China is a true friend to the Philippines, it should allow the Marcos administration to help with the country's modernization, as well as strengthen the Philippines' territorial defense operations.

He said that for the country to rise into a maritime power, it must have an independent foreign policy backed up by a strong Armed Forces and Coast Guard.

"The Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard should maintain sovereignty patrols on the country's maritime domains, ensuring a surface force to meet the current mission and long-term obligations, including the safeguard of sea control and denial, projecting power, maintaining maritime security, and also performing functions to support its mission other than war," Cabalza added.

He said that the military and coast guard should improve their human, organizational and information capital and build a culture of jointness by integrating and securing their communications and information systems.

Manhit also highlighted the importance of prioritizing economic cooperation and participation in regional and global economic initiatives in advancing the Philippines' national interests.

He said that the next president must also craft a responsive and strategic foreign policy to reverse the losses caused by the flippant policy of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.