January 20, 2018, 4:56 pm
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Project, Promote and Protect

YEARS ago when I was working for the public affairs function of a multinational beverage company, our bosses shared “three P’s” as the core of our function.

Our job, we were told, was to Project the company in the most favorable light, Promote its activities as well as its brands to all stakeholders especially the consuming public and the regulators, and in the process Protect the image and reputation of the company and its brands that were integral to its continuing financial success. 

As a result of our function we had a “seat at the table” where management shaped the course of the Company’s future; we were an important part of business continuity, and our role in flagging issues that could later on develop into real problems for the business was clear, whether these issues be internal or (as is more often he case) external.

In effect we were the company’s Foreign Ministry. It was a job I and my colleagues relished, and i think I can say that we all had a great time carrying out our roles.

When it was announced that Senator Alan Cayetano was being designated Secretary of Foreign Affairs (SFA) my thoughts immediately turned to the enormity of the role falling on his shoulders. For any country, the SFA (or Foreign Minister/ FM where Ministries are concerned) is the public face in the absence of the Head of State, representing the interests of its every single citizen or of its every single subject. 

Depending on whether a country is an economic or a military power -- or both -- an SFA finds himself on the front row of group pictures. Of course, if his country is deemed a “lesser power”, he naturally finds himself somewhere in the back or at the edges of the group. 

Happily a country that is neither an economic giant or a military power like the Philippines need not always be confined to the periphery, if, that is, it knows how to project itself right. A third way to get a good position in the group picture-taking is if such a country represents an idea or a value that the rest of the world can respect, or a success story to be admired if not emulated. 

Is that something the Duterte-Cayetano tandem can aspire for in foreign policy? I would like to hope so.

It seems ages since the Philippines was a major player at least in regional diplomacy. In the 1960s and 1970s at the height of the Cold War, we were at the forefront of Asian nations committed to stand firm for democracy and free enterprise -- the values we represented -- while our neighbors were either falling behind the Iron Curtain or attempting to shape a neutral course, the so-called Non Aligned movement. It helped that the Philippine economy was robust at that time, with only Japan better off and no sign of the “Tiger economies” on the horizon.

When Ferdinand Marcos opened relations with the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union in the mid 70s, we were again trailblazers in the region.

The same can no longer be said of the Philippines today. We have lost our luster, no longer seen to represent a laudable value or symbolize some success. Even the luster of “People Power” did not last long as others followed suit and our own politics degenerated to “politics as usual”.

But conditions may be ripe for a renaissance in foreign policy, with the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea providing the opportunity. If the Philippines can lead a multi-party effort to harmonize all the conflicting interests over the area and hammer out a modus vivendi, then we would be able to once again claim for ourselves a degree of influence in the shaping of foreign affairs in our part of the world, a part whose role in the future of global economic development is only sure to grow in the coming years. 

That’s the challenge that PRRD and his SFA-designate face and it is a challenge that I hope they will embrace with gusto.
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