IT was former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who coined the phrase “Transformational
Diplomacy.” In ordinary understanding, this means the shift from cold war diplomatic mindset of “us
against them” along ideological divides among countries, to that of all countries co-owning peace and
development for the world’s population.
The shift is most evident in the Philippines. During the administration of Benigno Aquino
III, diplomacy and foreign affairs were defined from a clear “cold war” posture. His administration
aligned with the United States and its allies against what it perceived as aggressive China. Aquino
projected to the world his strong anti-corruption platform with the battle cry “walang mahirap kung
walang corrupt” but selectively applied this mainly against the political opposition.
His closeness with former colonialists turned “democracy beacons” the United States of
America, Japan, and the European Union was apparent, while paying lip service to the more independent
With the rise of the Rodrigo Duterte administration, the pivot towards transformational
diplomacy becomes front and center.His has a clear grasp of how the country must strike a balance
between taking care of its people and at the same time contributing to a new, developmental, and
inclusive world order.
His foreign policy and diplomacy of “a puppet to none, a friend to all” is indeed a breath of
fresh air and a more strategic one. Duterte hinges is policy on the appreciation that despite
diversities among civilisations, all of us live in one planet. This was most apparent during last
year’s international flashpoints and milestones. Duterte’s inclusive and decisive diplomatic
leadership on the West Philippine Sea, APEC, ASEAN, and the Korean Peninsula crisis has created the
space for meaningful dialogue among states concerned.
His migrant workers rights and welfare push for overseas Filipino workers has netted firm
commitments from governments and has become a template and rallying point for other migrant workers
of various nationalities. His independent foreign policy has translated into being the fulcrum and
lynchpin of mutually respectful relationships among superpowers China, USA, and Russia in the asian
region. Ultimately, the gold cup is with China.
The territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea has so far already been framed by Duterte
and his Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano as one of “let’s talk mutual benefit and let’s
work towards common solutions” and this has made China really open and chummy up. So much so that
while traditional trade partners like the US and Japan are still very much part of the investment
playbook, the pouring of resources and investments from the middle kingdom to the Philippines is at
an ultimate high.
In fact, the multi billion dollar infrastructure, transport, and telecommunications mega push
of government, the Build Build Build program, is very much driven by Chinese investments. China has
become an ally and a friend, and this very encouraging and game changing.
Even far away Russia is making a real push for the Philippine investment climate albeit
partly because of China’s own successful diplomatic path in the Philippines. With China leading the
investment charge into the country, the validation of Duterte’s independent and inclusive foreign
policy and diplomacy, his “transformational diplomacy” is not only forthcoming. It has already
landed, taking root, and gaining ground with each passing day.