Who is responsible for Philippine foreign policy?

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M

Posted at Jun 03 2021 04:24 PM

The leadership of the San Beda Law School alumni association recently issued a statement of support for the administration’s policy position regarding our troubles in the West Philippine Sea.

They anchored their validation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s decisions pertaining to this matter on the argument that he is the “chief architect of our country’s foreign policy” and “the sole organ and authority in foreign relations”. Correspondingly, they implore citizens to just defer to the president’s judgment about this issue. 

Their reasoning implies that there is no room to be critical of the government’s foreign policies even though its actions or inaction will affect the entire nation. And worse, their mindset seems to envision a citizenry that should simply submit to the chief executive’s foreign policy decisions without question.

Notably, the management of our country’s foreign relations is an inherent component of executive power (See Marcos vs. Mangalapus, G.R. No. 88211, September 15, 1989). Accordingly, the president is indeed viewed, at least by the Supreme Court, as the “sole organ and authority in external relations”, the country’s “sole representative with foreign nations” and the “chief architect of foreign policy” (See Pimentel vs. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 158088, July 6, 2005).

Nonetheless, such an imperial characterization of the president needs to be squared with the prescription in Article II, Section 7 of the 1987 Constitution, to wit: “The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy.” 

The President of the Philippines is certainly not the Philippine State. So obviously, the constitution did not envisage the crafting of foreign policy to be the sole purview of the President. And clearly, the charter likewise did not contemplate this executive role to be of limitless authority that demands from the population total deference to the will and whim of the president.

On the contrary, the 1987 Constitution itself provides limitations and standards that regulate the exercise of the president’s foreign relations power. First, Article VII, Section 21 prescribes that "no treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate." 

So, while the President has the sole authority to negotiate and enter into treaties, the charter sets a limitation to this power by requiring the concurrence of a 2/3 majority of the Senate for the validity of the treaty entered into by him.

This constitutional requirement assigns a collaborative role for the Senate in defining certain aspects of our foreign policy, particularly those that involve the perfection of a treaty or international agreement. Hence, legislators too bear some responsibility in determining the depth and parameters of our country’s “independent foreign policy”.

Second, Section 7 cited earlier also provides that, “In its relations with other states the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.” 

Clearly, the personal concerns of private individuals or public officials, including the President, must have no sway in the formulation of foreign policies. For clearly, the constitutional command to pursue an “independent foreign policy” is fundamentally about the government meeting these directives in the national charter.

Lastly, Article XI, Section 1 prescribes that all public officers “must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty” and “act with patriotism and justice”. Clearly, the constitution does not sanction the imposition on citizens to just blindly accept the president’s foreign policy determinations. 

It cannot be emphasized enough that the President took an oath to preserve and the defend the 1987 Constitution. And Filipinos are dutybound to hold the President to this oath.
The pursuit of an “independent foreign policy” requires more than just designating the President as its “chief architect”. Relations amongst states must be anchored on international law and diplomatic protocols, therefore the development of foreign policies must necessarily involve experts and professionals. Although responsible public officials cannot be cavalier and impetuous because decisions relating to foreign policy often involve life and death issues. 

Foreign policy formulation can be more accurately viewed as a complex and sensitive process. Personal relations amongst state leaders cannot be discounted, but nevertheless, foreign policies must manifestly be well-thought and evidence-informed. And the best way to ensure this is if they come out of a deliberative policy-making process. 

Deliberative rigor makes certain that policy decisions are generated with full assessment of the widest range of considerations. More critically, deliberation encourages the participants of the process to be open to other viewpoints and to genuinely strive for resolutions based on the force of the better argument.

A deliberative ethos precludes the ramming of a pre-ordained point of view. And there is certainly no room for disinformation and misinformation in such a process. Fundamentally, the entire undertaking is founded on the free-flow of ideas and insights based on mutual respect of those engaged in it.

In sum, specifying the scope and scale of the Philippines’ “independent foreign policy” cannot be the exclusive domain of the President. And the relevant prescriptions of the 1987 Constitution have ultimately configured foreign policy-making to be a democratic and deliberative process. 

But most crucial of all, public officials responsible for crafting the nation’s foreign policy must never forget this passage written by Apolinario Mabini in The True Decalogue:

“Strive for the independence of your country, because you alone can have a real interest in her aggrandizement and ennoblement, since here independence will mean your own freedom, her aggrandizement your own perfection, and her ennoblement your own glory and immortality.”

Filipinos expect their President to protect the Philippines, not the interests of a foreign government encroaching on our territories and exploiting our marine resources. But more importantly, as citizens we cannot be like lemmings just blindly following his lead. For indeed, as Mabini exhorted, each and every Filipino must bear the responsibility of defending the national sovereignty. 


Atty. Michael Yusingco is a senior research fellow at the Ateneo School of Government 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.