Why saying ‘no’ to internationalism is not necessarily a bad thing

my Trade Tripper column in the 3-4 September 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

Years ago, while giving a lecture on international trade law and emphasizing the need for the Philippines to maximize its ability to achieve policy goals, a lady bureaucrat stood up and criticized my talk by saying that our job (meaning mine as a public commentator and hers as a government official) was to “uphold the objectives of the international community.” To which I replied: no, our job is to uphold national interest.

There’s this strange belief pervading that the notion of State sovereignty is a bad thing, while internationalism (or “global cosmopolitanism”) is the “progressive” ideal that should be exclusively pushed.

One sees this in the reaction to the pronouncements of two United Nations officials (not the UN itself, mind you, but two individual special rapporteurs from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) criticizing the present administration regarding mounting evidence of extrajudicial killings.

Now, this article is not about the obvious immorality of and the law on such killings. Raised here, rather, is the enthusiastic reaction by some locals on the UN officials’ comments -- treating such as if they were pronouncements from on high worthy of papal infallibility.

Not that the two UN officials have no right to speak; they do. And in our system of government, everyone has the right to free expression.

But that’s different from saying that the value which the Philippine public gives such expression should not be contextualized vis-à-vis those actually here and inherently knowledgeable of the issues in their totality.

We should really stop this default attitude of believing that just because one is a foreigner or from an international organization that person therefore has special knowledge and wisdom. Frankly, oftentimes, that is not the case.

One just wonders how the French (as example, or any country) would feel if one of our own criticizes or negatively comments on the goings-on of their country.

When President Duterte pushed back against the said UN officials’ comments, the reaction was predictable: how dare he not defer to the UN when it gave donations during Yolanda, it granted us a continental shelf, etc., etc.?

Well, firstly, just because the UN acted charitably to us in our hour of need doesn’t give it (or its officials) the right to be high-handed or condescending.

We contribute (quite conscientiously) to the UN’s annual upkeep, which for this 2016 amounted to $4,108,746 (around P190 million). We tirelessly supported the UN’s peacekeeping missions (as of 2013, per Wiki, the 30th largest contributor with around 730 Filipino peacekeepers). And never forget: our 1945 vote, particularly Carlos P. Romulo’s efforts, were significant in creating the UN. So our government is well within propriety in asking what do we get in return. Criticism from lower level officials?

And the UN (specifically, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf) did not grant us Benham Rise -- it merely recognized our claim. That continental shelf has always been ours per international law. The practical effect of that recognition is simply to estop other countries from contesting our ownership in the future.

There are two principles at work why the Filipino’s voice should be heard primarily over the foreign or the international: one of which is sovereignty.

It should be recognizably discomforting for us when foreigners attempt to impose rules, standards, and values formulated outside our shores, beyond our jurisdiction, and with nary a tie to the Philippines.

There’s a reason why one must be a citizen (particularly natural born) to acquire the benefits of full political participation in the Philippines and that is to ensure shared cultural, political, social, property, and moral allegiance, that there is a concrete personal stake involved, and that the country be not just a venue for social reengineering experimentation of a passing ideological fancy.

The second is subsidiarity (which, like sovereignty, is enshrined in our Constitution): the idea that the smallest political component (i.e., the individual, then the family, then the town, and so forth), the one closest to the issue, should have primary and substantial authority, rather than the national or international entities.

This is why local governments and autonomous regions possess the mandate that they have under our constitutional system. And, regardless of the merit (or lack) of the idea, it’s ironic that people are pushing for federalism, supposedly to remedy the notion of an imperial central national government, but not questioning this deferential attitude towards foreign or international governments.

Interestingly, it is from The Financial Times that I got this wonderfully relevant, “possibly apocryphal,” anecdote “about George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, who would point to a large globe and ask newly appointed American ambassadors to find their country. Invariably they would point to where they were going. ‘No,’ said Shultz, spinning it back to America, ‘that is your country.’”

Something for Filipinos, whether diplomats, officials, academics, or private citizens, to continually remember: other people would always have their country, the Philippines is ours.