By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz
POLITICAL analysts on Sunday criticized the Philippine Speaker for allegedly meddling in foreign affairs, which they said should be the exclusive purview of the Executive branch.
“Foreign policy is still very much the purview of the Executive, unless the House of Representatives will initiate laws to support activities and policies relating to the agreements signed,” Herman Joseph Kraft, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines (UP), said in an e-mail.
Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez was among those who accompanied President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. during his state visit to China last week.
He later told state radio the trip had been “highly successful because there were many engagements at different levels.”
His office did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.
Mr. Romualdez, the president’s first cousin, also met with Li Keqiang, chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislative body.
He said the meetings had led “to a better rapport” between the two nations. “Upon the instruction of our president, we shall engage our counterparts at the Parliament and our Congress and our Senate level,” he said last week.
Mr. Kraft said the working relationship between Philippine and Chinese lawmakers would “largely be consultative and symbolic and will depend on the foreign policy direction of the Executive, or in the case of China, the Communist Party.”
The Speaker’s growing presence in international engagements is “rarely done because they are expected to stay in the country and manage alliances/politics within House, said Hansley A. Juliano, a political economy researcher studying at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development in Japan.
He also cited the need to assess the independence of the Legislature. “Executive domination of the Legislature has been pretty normalized in hot-button issues, and the supermajority that was normalized under ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Marcos belies any attempt at independence and criticism.”
Aries A. Arugay, professor and chairman of the UP Political Science Department, called foreign policy under the Marcos government a “family affair.”
“Why are there other voices louder in terms of foreign policy, other than the president and the Foreign affairs Secretary?” Mr. Arugay said.
Aside from Mr. Romualdez, also accompanying Mr. Marcos to China were First Lady Marie Louise Liza A. Marcos and presidential sister and Senate foreign relations committee chairperson Senator Maria Imelda “Imee” R. Marcos.
“It seems like they all have good intentions,” Mr. Arugay said by telephone. “But you know, good intentions are not enough.”
Foreign policy with a country as powerful as China needs a “sophisticated, coherent approach,” he added.
Mr. Marcos has invited Mr. Xi to visit the Philippines, which Mr. Romualdez called “forthcoming because they actually enjoyed each other’s company and that of the respective first ladies.”
Mr. Romualdez had also told state media Mr. Marcos had managed to convey to the Chinese head of state the concerns of Filipinos “in an atmosphere of mutual respect and equality.”
But analysts said the success of the president’s state visit to China depends a lot on whether China would act on their agreements.
“It’s one thing to wish and claim that they did that, but it’s another thing to actually see it translated to Chinese geopolitical strategy,” Mr. Juliano said.
“Pleasantries can be exchanged and hidden in official communiques, but we have to acknowledge that the Chinese economic machine is currently being built, at Xi’s direction by maintaining Chinese primacy over mainland and maritime Asia,” he added.
Mr. Arugay said China chooses to engage with the Philippines bilaterally because of its “glaring power asymmetry.” “Rather than talk about the South China Sea issue with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations multilaterally and other relevant parties, China would rather talk individually because it is playing to its advantage, because of its sheer size and power.”
Mr. Xi has vowed to “find a compromise” to ease tensions in the South China Sea, Mr. Marcos said on Wednesday after meeting with the Chinese leader in Beijing.
In a video released by the presidential palace in Manila, Mr. Marcos said he had spoken with his Chinese counterpart about the plight of Filipino fishermen at sea, who are frequently driven away by the Chinese Coast Guard.
China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain massive oil and gas deposits and through which billions of dollars in trade passes each year. It has ignored a 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed arbitration court that voided its claim based on a 1940s map.
The Philippines, which is being backed by the United States and its allies in ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, has been unable to enforce the ruling and has since filed hundreds of protests over what it calls encroachment and harassment by China’s coast guard and its vast fishing fleet.