The Platform

Bongbong Marcos/Flickr

The Philippines has an upcoming presidential election.

With the upcoming Philippine presidential elections in May, it is important to consider the different positions each candidate takes regarding foreign policy, in particular, the challenge posed by China. The line-up of presidential candidates is an interesting mix of status quo candidates and one’s who bring fresh ideas. It is crucial to assess the future of the country’s foreign relations with both China and the United States.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno: Isko will probably seek to balance between the U.S. and China. After seeking advice from retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, Isko has emphasized his reliance on the 2016 Hague ruling concerning the South China Sea. He has shown an interest in pursuing joint oil exploration with China in the contested waters. Conversely, Isko also wants to continue to rely on the United States for its maritime security.

Senator Panfilo Lacson: Lacson’s view on Philippine foreign policy has evolved. In 2012, he emphasized that the Philippines should not be “confrontational” with China, rather he emphasized his preference for a strictly bilateral approach. However, since the Whitsun Reef incident, Lacson has promoted a proactive and aggressive policy to ensure the safeguarding of the territorial integrity of the Philippines. Regarding the U.S., Lacson has had a particular shift towards a multilateral approach that relies more on the United States military to safeguard the country’s sovereignty. Lacson has emphasized the need to review the current defense pact with the U.S.

Bongbong Marcos, son of the former dictator: Marcos’ foreign policy positions closely resemble those of the current president. Marcos has made it clear that he will set aside territorial issues, as well as the Hague ruling to improve relations with China. This indicates the potential continuation of the divisive China approach that marks the Duterte government. Marcos has also stated that he would dismiss any potential offer of help from the United States in negotiating with China.

A win for Marcos, which seems likely, would also offer his mother, Imelda Marcos, a return to prominence. This could be both good and bad for the Marcos administration. While younger Filipinos don’t remember the turbulence of the Ferdinand Marcos years, older Filipinos do. And let’s not forget her shoe collection and the billions of dollars the Marcos family stole from the Central Bank of the Philippines.

Vice President Leni Robredo: Robredo has been a vocal critic of the Duterte administration’s engagement and its foreign policy. Robredo consistently brought to light her discontent regarding the direction the Philippines has been undertaking. She has ensured to uphold the 2016 Hague ruling and has stood firm in that she will not entertain the idea of conducting oil exploration activities with China until the latter recognizes the validity of the ruling. With regards to the U.S., Robredo has maintained that she will push for multilateralism in the improvement of relations with the U.S.

The future Philippine president faces a myriad of challenges. Aside from the challenge posed by China, the country is caught between the rivalry of both the United States and China. The Philippines should also aim to strengthen engagements not only with ASEAN nations, but also with India, South Korea, and Japan.

Moreover, while deeper engagement with the U.S. and China will be a staple, the next leader must gauge and assess the crucial cooperation the Philippines should forge with growing Asian powerhouses taking into consideration the national interest and ambition the Philippines has in the region.

Anushka Kapahi has completed her Master’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.