The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the University of the Philippines (UP) Asian Center teamed up in conducting Philippine Foreign Relations in the 21st Century: Challenges and Prospects, a conference initiated by students of History and Development of Philippine Foreign Relations under Dr. Henelito A. Sevilla of the UP Asian Center, held at the GT-Toyota Asian Center Auditorium, UP Diliman, on 5 May 2015.
The event gathered together scholars and practitioners who provided in-depth analyses and assessments of the political security, economic, and socio-cultural challenges and opportunities facing Philippine foreign policy.
FSI’s Acting Director-General Julio S. Amador III gave an overview of the strategic environment in the context of Philippine national security. He discussed the first pillar of Philippine foreign policy: the preservation and enhancement of national security, which requires understanding threats and trends within the regional and global environment such as globalization, the shifting of political, economic, and demographic centers away from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region, the rise of non-state actors, and the trans-boundary nature of security threats.
He added that the security and prosperity of the Philippines are significantly linked to the external environment and, thus, having a good understanding of these global developments allows the Philippines to effectively identify threats, find opportunities, and craft smart policies and strategies.
Dr. Clarita Carlos, professor at the Department of Political Science, UP Diliman, and a pioneering advocate of political psychology in the Philippines, argued that the insecurity of the individual can also translate to collective insecurity. She added that the emergence of this insecurity begins with the alienation of the self in various political, socio-economic, and cultural contexts. The denial of the “other” as well as the other’s rights and voices creates a sense of powerlessness, meaninglessness, and normlessness, ultimately pushing individuals into committing indiscriminate attacks and other acts that bring turmoil and destruction of human life.
Dr. Carlos pointed out that there has to be a plan of action that zeroes in on the psychological well-being of men. Ending discrimination and denial of opportunities to be human will counter the feeling of insecurity of the individual and, by extension, of society.
During the open forum, Acting Director-General Amador reiterated that leaders have to be aware of the priorities of the state to strike a balance between national interest and regional interest. Dr. Carlos decried the fixation to nationalism and the artificial and “absurd” political boundaries. Nationalism, imparted by Europeans, is the love of the self and the exclusion of the others. Shared meanings and interests, regardless of nationality, is important. Acting Director-General Amador added that nationalism is what fuels intractable conflicts, and thus, there is a need for dialogue and a more cosmopolitan outlook.
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Assistant Secretary Ceferino Rodolfo also discussed the Philippines’ trade negotiation agenda. He clarified that in the light of ASEAN integration, the Philippines is pushing for more inclusive and competitive trade agreements. According to him, 60 percent of Philippine exports go to FTA partners such as Japan and other ASEAN countries. However, for traditional trading partners such as the United States and the European Union, the Philippines has no existing FTAs. According to Assistant Secretary Rodolfo, this is problematic for the Philippines in the long run because other ASEAN states have been pushing for more aggressive FTAs with the United States and the EU. Locally, DTI is consulting and negotiating with local stakeholders, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in order for them to benefit from these trading agreements.
Meanwhile, Atty. Dr. Jonathan Sale of the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations addressed the issue on the harmonization of labor laws in ASEAN integration, which he surmised could counter the “race to the bottom” resulting from globalization. He then compared the governing laws in the different ASEAN member states using the legal origins theory and varieties of capitalism as approaches for comparison.
For the socio-cultural aspect, UP Asian Center alumna Ms. Marian Gongora also discussed the student exchange programs, specifically, her experience in South Korea as a graduate exchange student. She said that being an exchange student in a foreign land entails both opportunities and challenges. The program opened avenues for her to gain friends of different nationalities and enabled her to study for free in another country. The program also paved the way for her to be a de facto “expert” on the Philippines among her peers. As for the challenges she experienced, she cited that she had to adjust to local conditions and new people, besides overcoming homesickness.
The event was attended by students from different universities as well as representatives from government and the academe.