By Herman Tiu Laurel

By the time this article comes out, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. will be on his first day in New York for his United Nations debut. As of now, details of his various side meetings are still up in the air, but it seems clear at this point that his schedule does set apart any specific occasion to meet US President Joe Biden. The latest news is that the two may meet at the reception hosted by the US President for all heads-of-state that will arrive in New York for the UN meeting.

A separate meeting between PBBM and the US President could have significant reverberations as it would be interpreted as diluting our country’s foreign policy that has kept the Philippines “equidistant” from all the major world powers. Meeting only at a reception for other heads-of-state would diffuse any possible interpretation of a separate meeting between the presidents of the Philippines and the United States.

While Ambassador “Babes” Romualdez had insinuated a separate meeting at one time, it is apparent that PBBM has avoided the possibility of being misinterpreted by other major powers that also have a deep stake in Philippine geopolitical signaling, as well as by the divided Filipino audience at home that is unevenly split between a few staunch American Boys (Amboys) and activists and intellectuals who are anti-American, Anti-imperialist.

Avoiding a separate meeting is a good move and in keeping with the balance that President Bongbong Marcos seems to prefer compared to former President Rodrigo Duterte’s mercurial anti-Americanism.

 UN role amidst new regional, global partnerships

While the UN 2022 General Assembly meets, another global trend-setting organization has just wrapped up a two-day summit that brought together heads-of-state of the three major Asian powers around one table along with five other Member States, four Observer States and six Dialogue Partners. Iran has also just signed its Memorandum of Commitment” for “full membership in the SCO”, which covers 60 percent of the area of Eurasia, 40 percent of the world population, and more than 30 percent of global GDP.

Last June, the BRICS organization, spearheaded by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the major nations of four continents, completed its 14th Summit that was chaired by President Xi Jinping. BRICS also has 40 percent of the world’s population but an even greater share of global GDP at 43 percent, which is greater than the combined share of the US and EU at 36 percent. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt have expressed interest to join BRICS, while Indonesia is avidly being courted by BRICS.

Southeast Asian not only has its own Asean. Also growing is the RCEP trade group. RCEP whose membership now includes Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam (all Asean member states) as well as China, Japan, New Zealand and Australia (non-Asean member states). Not far behind is Indonesia whose membership was ratified on Aug. 30, 2022 Indonesia. It is unfortunate that the Philippines’ ratification has been delayed by the political opposition and fears of farm imports.

The Department of Trade has insisted that the Philippine farm sector is amply protected in the RCEP agreement. Myanmar’s military government has been delayed in joining the RCEP due to the Philippines’ opposition to its participation.

While the UN remains important today to individual countries for the highest levels of international issues, much of the nitty-gritty of managing the affairs of regions and countries have to deal with these varied multilateral organizations and partnerships. While the Philippines should start direct involvement with these groupings, its top priority is to complete the ratification of RCEP and move on from the “study period” on imports the matter that the Dept. of Trade has studied for the past decade.

PBBM agenda at the UN and NYC

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles reported that Marcos' UNGA speech will focus on the Philippine government's interventions, including international cooperation, to fast-track the country's recovery from the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic. Marcos shall articulate the administration's priorities, including climate change, the rule of law, and food security. There is no indication that President Marcos will make any statements on controversial international issues, such as the Ukraine War.

Apart from meetings with the delegations of different countries, President Marcos said he would consult US stakeholders in the diplomatic and business sectors and conduct a Philippine Economic Briefing for analysts and investors. In October 2021, a PIDS and BSP report cited the Philippines as scoring the poorest in investment indicators among Asean countries, even excluding the fact that it has the highest power cost in Asia.

One of PBBM’s major goals -- 'Expanding PH-US trade ties' -- will be quite a challenge as the US is teetering on the brink of a major recession. However, PBBM may yet spin some surprises in his meetings with American businessmen whether in the US and those who already have businesses and investments in the Philippines. Aside from his formal activities, it is de rigueur at this time that he meets with members of the Filipino community in New York City. We wish him the best of luck

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary.

About the Columnist

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Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.