Interview: Teodoro L Locsin

Where do you see opportunity to reform the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) with the US?

TEODORO L LOCSIN: The MDT has been effective in maintaining peace and stability in the Philippines and throughout the wider region since the beginning of the Cold War. Therefore, I am in favour of maintaining it in its current form. Altering the conditions that outline the mutual defence clauses that bring both countries together in case of conflict can be dangerous in two ways. First, changes may trigger the treaty for reasons that cannot be qualified as aggression. Second, it could allow potential aggressors to work around the specifics of the agreement in order to avoid their actions being labelled as aggressions and prevent mutual defence mechanisms from being triggered. The MDT has been effective, and it remains important for maintaining peace and stability.

To what extent will growing economic ties with Beijing lead to enhanced cooperation in international affairs between the Philippines and China?

LOCSIN: When the Chinese minister of foreign affairs visited the Philippines in late 2018, 34 agreements were signed. These included two crucial memoranda of understanding (MoUs): the MoU on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the MoU on Cooperation in Oil and Gas Development. When it comes to the Philippines’ territorial claims, which are recognised under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, we will not yield when defending our sovereign rights.

However, this does not mean we cannot work through our differences and cooperate in other mutually beneficial areas. Both the Philippines and China acknowledge the BRI and the oil and gas sector as areas of common interest. In addition, we agree on the potential for cooperation in different economic areas, like possible joint ventures in oil and gas projects, not resulting in either side relinquishing their territorial claims as a condition of cooperation.

What are your expectations for the evolution of the bilateral relationship with Russia?

LOCSIN: We have strong ties with many countries, but the US remains our sole military ally. The Philippines’ natural military ally must be distant enough not to interfere with our internal policies, yet strong enough to project its power in the region and protect us if the need arises. Striking a defence deal with another military superpower would be illogical. We can strengthen our ties with Russia in other ways. In fact, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Philippines was one of the first countries to establish relations with Russia. That said, Russia remains a distant culture. The Philippines is significantly closer to the US culturally, and every survey indicates that our population feels more positive sentiments towards the US than other major powers. However, it cannot be ignored that Japan is the most generous bilateral donor in terms of economic assistance, followed by the US and China. Our relationship with Russia has not yet reached that point.

How can the administration safeguard the rights of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)?

LOCSIN: In order to protect OFWs, we work to strengthen our relations with host countries, making sure that our foreign policy and votes in the UN do not antagonise the governments hosting our citizens – especially in the Middle East. Host countries are not providing charity. They need Filipino workers because of their skills in certain professions. Therefore, we have investigated reported abuses when required. OFWs are looking for jobs that they are not able to find here. This is a legitimate ambition of many Filipinos, and we will respect and uphold it. When they are abroad and suffer adversity, the government will take care of them. They are our citizens, and even though sometimes they may make mistakes, the state can never forego its obligation to protect its people.