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A Briefer on Philippine Foreign Policy: An Introduction

This article is the first of four parts on Philippine foreign policy. The first provides a general overview of Philippine foreign policy and the basis for such. Succeeding articles will explain national security, economic security, and the promotion of the interest of Filipinos overseas, respectively.

Long before the era of the peak of globalization and the creation of transnational organizations, nations have created for themselves connections of friendship and cooperation with neighboring countries. This has flourished into economic, political, and cultural links between neighbors. Soon after, relationships expanded where the vast seas were conquered obstacles, and the interconnection grew and developed.

“The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice.” (Article II, Section 2, 1987 Philippine Constitution)

Fast forward to the year 1648, where the Peace of Westphalia brought an end to two wars: the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Dutch, and the German phase of the Thirty Years’ War. The Peace of Westphalia brought with it a treaty, an agreement that provided the foundation of the system of the nation-state and articulating the concept of territorial sovereignty.

In with the new century and as a fully functioning nation-state of its own right, the Philippines is obligated and directed, through its government, to conduct foreign policy with other nations and fellow nation-states for the greater good of society and its people.

The creation of the 1987 Philippine Constitution allows for a Philippine foreign policy that “renounces war as an instrument of national policy” (Article II, Sec. 2) and pursues “an independent foreign policy” (Article II, Sec. 7).

But what justification would the Philippine government have in formulating its foreign policy? The purpose of Philippine foreign policy is to secure the national interest in our dealings with foreign nations (such as Indonesia, Brazil, and Fiji, among others), regional organizations (such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation [APEC]), and international bodies (such as the United Nations [UN] and the International Court of Justice).

War, the United States, and International Relations

“The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice.” (Article II, Section 2, 1987 Philippine Constitution)

Though the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, it does not limit itself to non-participation in wars brought on by other states. And such participation exhibits more pull factors than push. In an ideological level, our foreign policy adheres to concepts of democracy, freedom, and rights for all. And this is not politics that stops at the water’s edge. More importantly, in a political level, diplomatic ties with more developed countries is a factor for less-developed countries such as the Philippines to be persuaded to follow her more powerful counterparts, using any justification possible (i.e. ideology).

Again, though the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, it does not limit itself to non-participation in wars brought on by other states.

Ties to the United States have affected Philippine international relations. A mere understatement, one should say. It would be no question that the Philippine government has tied itself with the government of the United States, in more ways than one. The Philippines considers itself a staunch ally of the United States and has supported many points of American foreign policy. Such as that we copied it from them.

World War II gravely affected Philippine soil, and it was the apparent reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts made that gave our ultimate debt of gratitude to President Franklin Roosevelt and his government. Years after that, the Philippine government had sent its troops to combat in the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1950-1975), both US-sponsored wars. It has also sent peacekeeping forces to Iraq in the early 2000s, under the flag of the United Nations, with which the American government has requested for. And in 2003, for participating in the Iraq War and the ongoing War on Terror, President George W. Bush praised the Philippines for being a “bastion of democracy in the East”. Again, though the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, it does not limit itself to non-participation in wars brought on by other states.

The Philippine Commitment

The second clause of Section II relates to the adherence of the Philippine government in the principles of international law. The Philippine government is a signatory and a ratifier to most international laws, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and other agreements and treaties that establish general principles on a vast range of topics from territorial sovereignty to the internet rights.

When a representative becomes a signatory of an international agreement on behalf of the state, it affirms the commitment of the state to abide by such rules and policies. This is then delivered to the state’s legislature (the Senate, in the case of the Philippines), for it to be ratified according to that state’s law. When such treaty has been ratified, it automatically compels the state, through its officials, to follow all provisions included therein.

Fortunately, for the Republic of the Philippines, instances of violation of provisions of international law have never been reported. This is a show of the Philippine commitment to adhere to the rules of peace, justice, and equality in the eyes of the international community.

An Independent Foreign Policy

“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.” (Article II, Section 7, 1987 Philippine Constitution)

The Republic of the Philippines has never been a solitary player in the international sphere. It has always relied on other states, big or small, powerful or less, in the conduct of its foreign policy.

Truly, a lot has to be said about the independence of Philippine foreign policy. It is imperative to ask, is our foreign policy independent? If it is, how independent is it? How independent are we?

In hindsight, the Philippines has declared itself independent of any major power bloc of nations, which is apparent in our membership in the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM. The NAM is an association of mostly developing states that was formed as a response to the Cold War, as an attempt to thwart the bipolar war between the United States and the Soviet Union. After the Cold War, however, it has struggled to find relevance. The Philippines joined the organization in 1993.

The NAM, however, was never a top priority for Philippine foreign policy. Focusing more on matters of regionalism and historical ties, the Philippine government is adamant in creating a path for itself in the world stage, with the aid of its allies and partners along the way.

A Power in Its Own Right

The Republic of the Philippines has never been a solitary player in the international sphere. It has always relied on other states, big or small, powerful or less, in the conduct of its foreign policy. As a founding member of the UN in 1945, the Association of Southeast Asia in 1961, and of the ASEAN in 1967, the Philippines has steered for itself a foreign policy less attached to the usurping influence of more powerful countries, and less indebted to the grandeur of its leaders.

The Philippine value has always been associated with national sovereignty. Hungry for genuine freedom, its striving people is the perpetual hallmark of the Filipino bloodline.

Memberships in international organizations are never an indication of a state’s independence in its foreign policy. Much more so, it is apparent that the Philippine government could think for itself in participation and debate with like-minded and differing countries. Though in the realpolitik of Philippine foreign policy, partnerships with more powerful entities, such as the United States, China, and the European continent, has been part and parcel of the Philippine foreign policy ideal; that the Philippines is a friend to all countries an enemy to none.

The Philippine value has always been associated with national sovereignty. Hungry for genuine freedom, its striving people is the perpetual hallmark of the Filipino bloodline. Fighting tooth and nail with those who oppose with our ideals of territorial sovereignty, we strike back. And we win. For the purposes of the national interest, the Philippines continues to uphold the law, both domestic and international as it toils the legitimacy required of a nation-state that does. It is our values and principles as a people that define our national interest. And as the Philippine government defends the right to self-determination, we pick our battles in the national interest.

Principled Foreign Policy

Our Constitution is plump with principles that we must observe in the conduct of our foreign policy. Our historical evolution as a nation-state has shaped us as a people. Ours is a history full of lessons that bore into us a deep appreciation and love of democracy and freedom.

As an emerging scholar of diplomacy, foreign policy should be the heart and center of international relations. Philippine foreign policy is not perfect nor will it ever be. We have our alliances that take root back decades, even centuries, when the Republic was not even there to begin with. A decent foreign policy will stabilize a country and its people in the eyes of the international world. Much more so when principle enters the picture.


Jaconiah Shelumiel T. Manalaysay is your next door diplomat. Graduating from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a degree in Political Science, Jake is currently finishing his MA in Political Science, major in Global Politics from the Ateneo de Manila University. His research interests include Philippine foreign policy, international relations, political theory, and comparative politics. A game show fanatic and Model United Nations addict, he is currently affiliated as a Research Fellow at the Philippine-California Advanced Research Institute in Manila.

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