“We refuse to play by the rules that force us to choose sides in a great power competition. No government that truly exists in the service of the people would invite danger or harm to lives and livelihood.” – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Puerto Princesa City, June 23, 2024.

This statement sets a crucial agenda for a foreign policy context that Palawan News previously discussed in its weekend editorial—a shift to a truly independent foreign policy aimed at achieving peace and progress.

Here’s more from that same speech: “We are not in the business to instigate wars—our great ambition is to provide a peaceful and prosperous life for every Filipino. This is the drumbeat—this is the principle that we live by, that we march by.”

Henceforth, the direction has been set. It is by no means an easy task for the current administration to flesh it out. Rodrigo Duterte attempted it during his time, but we soon realized his definition of “independent” leaned heavily towards Beijing.

Significantly, the president’s policy speech was delivered during his “Talk to Troops” at the Western Command on Sunday, June 23, 2024, following China’s boldest pushback ever on the BRP Sierra Madre outpost on Ayungin Shoal.

The fallout from the Ayungin Shoal attack will become more evident in the coming days. We can only hope that Beijing and Manila, as well as the diplomatic community, will pursue dialogue—formal or backchannel—to diffuse the situation and discourage any further escalation.

The PBBM administration needs to be more organized in its actions, aligned with the direction set forth in the president’s defining speech, and consistent in its messaging. Now that the president has outlined his foreign policy thrust, it needs to be amplified across various decision-making spheres, including the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense, Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Security Council, and Congress.

This task is markedly important and perhaps the easiest to accomplish, starting with the administration’s communications team being clear with the message and aligned with the context in which the president made his statement.

For starters, they should at least create a group chat to avoid the confusion of government agencies contradicting each other in public. Maybe a communications office that specifically handles messaging on the West Philippine Sea issue is a sensible start. A clear-cut system for developing and disseminating information must be established. If this communications office already exists, its protocols clearly need to be revisited to ensure timely responsiveness. The issue is too complicated and sensitive to allow for dissonance in messaging. While we do not expect everyone involved in the WPS concerns to have a unified view or approach, there must always be a unified message.

PBBM has spoken. The concerned agencies and officials must now follow through. The communications team must not drop the ball or complicate the situation with inconsistent statements. It must control the messaging, anchored on the president’s policy directive on the WPS.