Foreign relations as domestic policy

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Looking back at all those self-congratulatory speeches on freedom and democracy during the EDSA 25th anniversary party, I got to thinking about the fact that I’ve been brought up as a child and also taught by the schools I attended to always "mean what I say and say what I mean." The point is to find something to truly believe in and to stand up for those beliefs. It’s a lesson, I guess, that a significant part of the country (or at least our public officials) should start re-learning.

Because despite all that’s said and done after EDSA, how sincere are we really in protecting and ensuring respect for our beliefs? Surely, we believe in freedom and democracy. But do we really know what that means and, more importantly, understand the price needed to be paid for it? Our supposed beliefs are actually concretely laid out in our Constitution. Article II (on State principles and policies) would declare, amongst others:

"The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. xxx The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy xxx and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations. xxx the promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy. xxx The State shall promote social justice in all phases of national development. xxx The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rvights."

To the above must be added the provisions of the Bill of Rights, which include the rights to life, liberty and property, of equality and fair hearing, freedom of expression, of religion, the right to travel, etc. All these embody (or are supposed to embody) the beliefs and ideals of our people, expressed as they did when they exercised their sovereign rights. These provisions declare our idea of who we are as a people and should guide our policies and actions as a country. So how come our recent policy measures or government actions seem to be quite disconnected to the principles laid out in the Constitution?

In particular, we seem incredibly eager or happy to look the other way whenever China is concerned. Our large neighbor should be a cause of concern for everybody in the region, including -- obviously -- the Philippines, as illustrated by the Wall Street Journal ("China’s aggressive new diplomacy," 1 Oct. 1, 2010):

"The Senkaku clash is of a piece with other fishy incidents. Last year, Chinese fishing boats harassed a U.S. Navy ship in waters that are international by everyone’s definition except that of Beijing, which claims the South China Sea as its ‘historical waters’. More recently, fleets of Chinese fishing ships illegally entered Indonesian waters in May and June, leading to a stand-off with Indonesian patrol craft that ended when one of the Chinese vessels aimed a large-caliber gun at the Indonesians. xxx China’s new assertiveness is more than a matter of provocation and petulance. It’s also a new state of mind. ... when Hillary Clinton took the side of Vietnam in mildly pushing back against China’s claims to th South China Sea, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi could barely contain his anger. Calling the Secretary of State’s remarks ‘an attack on China,’ he lectured that ‘China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.’"

More directly related to the Philippines was the incident relating to the Sept. 24, 2010, joint statement between ASEAN and the US reaffirming "the importance of regional peace and stability, maritime security, unimpeded commerce, and freedom of navigation, in accordance with relevant universally agreed principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other international maritime law, and the peaceful settlement of disputes." What could possible be wrong with such a logical to the point of mundane statement? Nothing. But, as reported by the Canadian Press, China reacted, again predictably hysterically, that "China claims sovereignty over the entire sea and all the island groups within it."

And, of course, there was that Nobel Peace Prize award to Liu Xiaobo, which the country unfortunately failed to attend for one reason or another. The fact that China ranted and raved for other countries to boycott the event must have been mere coincidence. But the effect is the same.

We need to take a more principled and courageous stand in the way we issue policies, as well as in dealing with other countries. Actual naiveté is to believe we can profit if we compromise on our values. We should be sophisticated enough to push for our democratic and human rights ideals when negotiating or entering into trade agreements. Otherwise, trust me, the other countries will look down on us as a pathetic people that can easily be bought off.