4 presidential candidates tackle foreign policy issues
MANILA, Philippines — Presidential aspirants Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Leody de Guzman have pushed for cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the United Nations to resolve the country’s maritime dispute with China.
At the SMNI presidential debates on Tuesday night, Marcos said he was open to pursuing a multilateral approach in dealing with the problem in the South China Sea, which includes the West Philippine Sea.
In 2016, the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, although the Asian superpower has refused to recognize the ruling.
Ask Asean’s help
“We will go to Asean and ask the help of Asean because they are crafting the code of conduct for Asean and China,” Marcos said.
He added that he would also ask help from the United Nations and send a delegation to Beijing for a dialogue with Chinese President Xi Jinping on “how to resolve the issue so that what happened in the past won’t happen again.”
“China prefers to handle these issues bilaterally between their country and another country. But I think the multilateral approach is still going to be important. We will pursue every avenue that we can,” Marcos said.
For De Guzman, unity and cooperation among fellow Asean member states and other states parties of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea are the country’s best hope in countering further Chinese expansion and protecting the rights of Filipino fishermen.
But among the four presidential aspirants who attended the debate, De Guzman was the only one who advocated the country’s disentanglement from major powers—including longtime ally, the United States, whose Mutual Defense Treaty and other military agreements with the Philippines he vowed to revoke on his first day in office.
According to him, the Philippines should pursue a policy of nonalignment and reject or halt plans to conclude status of forces agreements with other powers such as Russia and China.
Beef up deals
Sen. Manny Pacquiao, on the other hand, said that while he would beef up defense deals with the United States, he would only seek help from international allies over the West Philippine Sea dispute if the lives of Filipinos were at risk.
“We will strengthen it (the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement) further … We have to do what is needed to protect our country from being aggrieved in territorial disputes,” the senator, who is also eyeing the presidency, said in a recorded interview with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines released on Wednesday.
“As much as possible, we won’t ask for help from other countries [that] are allied with us. But if it’s necessary and the lives of every Filipino [are] at stake, then we will need help from allied countries who wish to help us. That’s why we have agreements, to help each other,” Pacquiao said.
“But as much as possible, we have to avoid resulting in disagreements and war; that is not the best idea,” he added.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO AND JEROME ANING