Last Sunday, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. flew to Davos, Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum. That is his 8th trip abroad since he became president on June 30, 2022.
The previous trips were to Indonesia on Sept. 6 for a two-day state visit. He proceeded from there to Singapore on Sept. 9, also for a two-day state visit. His next trip was on Sept. 18 to the United States to speak at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Three working visits followed: to Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Oct. 9 to attend the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits, to Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 16 to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings, and to Brussels Belgium on Nov. 12 to attend the ASEAN-European Union Commemorative Summit.
There was one trip that was not announced. He flew to Singapore on Oct. 1.
He started 2023 with another trip, to Beijing, on Jan. 3-5.
In the first seven months of his presidency, Mr. Bongbong Marcos had already made eight foreign trips. People find them too frequent within a short period of time, in the very beginning of his term at that. The Oct. 1 trip was totally unnecessary, his speaking at the UN General Assembly could have been scheduled at a later year in his presidency. Serious domestic problems call for his staying home.
But according to the Department of Trade and Industry’s year-end report, the President’s trips to Indonesia, Singapore, the United States, Cambodia, and Thailand were productive. They brought in $23.6 billion of investment pledges. Included in the report are the recent government export registered and generated investment leads. The Board of Investments and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority had a combined approved investment of P402 billion.
But observers say many of the pledges made during visits of a head of state are customary gestures of courtesy by the host country. The pledges made during President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China are cited as examples. Some of the investment pledges made during state visits are existing expansion plans of multinational companies already doing business in the country of the visiting head of state. The plans would be implemented even if the visiting head of state had not come.
The President’s trip to Singapore on Oct. 1 was not announced because it was nothing more than a pleasure trip. It was to watch the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix, an auto racing contest. While it was at the invitation of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the President’s leaving the country to watch a sporting event while Filipinos were reeling from record high inflation and the devastation wrought by a violent typhoon the week before was an exposure of his insensitivity to his countrymen’s suffering. His bringing along the First Lady, his son, Congressman Sandro Marcos, and his first cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez and the use of a military jet to fly them to Singapore was suggestive of imperial overindulgence.
Political pundits say that while the other trips may have been necessary, the inclusion of members of Congress in the entourage was wrong. Speaker Romualdez accompanied the President on five of those trips, Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on three of them, and Congressman Sandro on three of them also.
They contend that foreign affairs are the exclusive purview of the Executive branch of government. The Constitution vests executive power on the President. In official discourse of high government officials and in debates in the halls of Congress, the president is generally recognized as the architect of the country’s foreign policy.
When President Rodrigo Duterte began to evince a foreign policy that distanced the Philippines from the United States and leaned towards warmer relations with China, many political pundits urged other top government officials and senators to dissuade him from embracing that policy. In the vin d’honneur he hosted for the diplomatic corps in November 2018, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. referred to President Duterte as “the country’s chief architect of foreign policy.” During a debate in the Senate in January 2020 on a resolution calling for the Senate to assert its role in the country’s termination or withdrawal from a treaty, Senator Francis Tolentino said the other branches of government should not meddle with the powers of the President over the country’s foreign policy. He pointed out that under the Constitution, the Senate’s consent is only needed in ratifying an agreement.
Deputy Speaker Arroyo may have been president of the country. But the Constitution does not include a provision for the position of “president emeritus.” It will be recalled that when she was president, she brought along her two sons, their wives, their children, and the children’s nannies when she made a state visit to China in 2004. Those family holidays at taxpayers’ expense are long over for her.
After she had served as president she chose to remain in government — as representative of the 2nd District of Pampanga. The House of Representatives is her proper place, not a conference room where foreign relations are negotiated.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a political activist since the late 1950s.