MANILA - In his first year in office, President Rodrigo Duterte stunned the world with his push for a truly “independent” foreign policy, steering the country closer towards China and Russia, and distancing from Manila’s traditional ally—the United States.
In September 2016, Duterte announced that the Philippines would pursue an independent foreign policy. His announcement would later be followed by a statement of "separation" from the United States, and also rejection of aid from the European Union.
Herman Kraft, associate professor at the University of the Philippines Political Science Department, said the president has been “diversifying” Manila’s options the past year.
“Geopolitically, he wanted to change the normal patterns of our strategic partnerships and relations,” Kraft told ANC Friday.“[It’s about] improving and diversifying our options.”
In his first year alone, Duterte incurred travel expenses of over P300 million.
Malacañang has defended these trips saying the President's travels are worth it because of stronger diplomatic ties and the billions of dollars in trade and aid pledges.
Duterte has gone on 21 trips so far, more than double the 8 trips that his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, undertook in his maiden year in Malacañang.
Kraft, however, noted the importance of striking a balance in fostering ties with different states so as to maintain the country’s national interest.
“Being good friends with all states, especially powerful states, is always a good thing,” he said.
Though Duterte’s strong criticism of the United States has been viewed as creating a gap between the two countries, Kraft believes that Duterte’s words are only part of his rhetoric but have not affected relationships on the ground.
“I think what’s interesting about what the President has done is even as people seem to think that his rhetoric is moving us away from the United States, in terms of institutional relationships, relations between the Philippines and the US are still quite good even as relations between the Philippines and China, and the Philippines and Russia are actually improving,” he said.
European Chamber of Commerce (ECCP) President Guenter Taus echoed Kraft’s views.
“Just because you have a new friend doesn’t mean you have to part ways with your old friend,” Taus said, noting that there is nothing wrong with diversification.
“There’s nothing wrong...I think to diversify, it is actually the best thing that can happen and you pick the best partner for whatever it is,” he added.
Taus emphasized that regardless of Manila’s partners, what remains to be asked of the government is how it plans to use these alliances to generate growth.
He said the administration should consider bringing in foreign manufacturing companies to Manila instead of just enticing investors for Duterte’s ambitious infrastructure push.
“Infrastructure building is short term. There’s an end to it but if you entice investors to come in and put their manufacturing here, that’s long-term plan in order to secure jobs,” he said.