The Republic of the Philippines is an island state that extends over an archipelago made up of more than 7,000 islands, divided into three geographical areas: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The Philippines is a presidential republic, whose institutional system is based on the separation of powers between the executive branch, entrusted to the president, the legislative branch, entrusted to a bicameral parliament (Congress), and the judicial branch, entrusted to an independent judiciary. The president holds the roles of chief executive, head of state and commander of the armed forces; has the power to approve the laws of Congress (composed of 24 senators and 278 representatives of the House), or to exercise the right of veto, making it necessary in this case a majority of two thirds of the votes of the assembly for the law to be considered approved. The presidential elections of May 2010 sanctioned the clear victory of Benigno Aquino III, with a margin of almost six million votes. This result, together with the wide popularity it also enjoys in the international field, has allowed the president to guarantee the country a certain stability, despite the attempt by the Supreme Court of the country to pass a motion of impeachment against the president following alleged corruption allegations.
The country’s peculiar geographic location contributes to determining its foreign policy orientation. Geographically close to China, the Philippines has a fluctuating relationship with Beijing, complicated by the existence of territorial disputes relating to the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea, and the shoal called Scarborough Shoal or Huangyan Island or Bajo de Masinloc, west of the island. of Luzon. The Philippine government’s decision to internationalize the dispute by submitting it to UN arbitration appears to have angered the Chinese government, more traditionally inclined to settle disputes bilaterally. Nonetheless, the increase in commercial exchange in recent years, as well as the huge scale of investments that Beijing directs towards the Filipino mining sector,
On the other hand, Manila’s relationship with Washington remains solid. Beyond the past colonial link, the United States represents the Philippines’ first trading partner, as well as the country’s main ally, to which it guarantees military assistance with joint exercises and collaboration in the intelligence sector .
In addition to relations with the two great powers bordering the Pacific, the Philippines has close relations with the states of the Indochinese peninsula within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. (Apec).
Manila’s foreign policy is greatly affected by the interests of the many citizens who live and work abroad, and who generate a flow of remittances that in 2014 amounted to 10% of GDP. In order to protect the latter, and because of migration to Middle Eastern states of many of the expatriates, the Philippines – Asia was the only predominantly Christian, together with East Timor – aim to become an observer member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This attempt was hindered by the opposing veto, within the Organization, by the Moro National Liberation Front (Mnlf), secessionist formation, observer member of the OIC, which for forty years has aspired to independence from Manila in the Muslim Mindanao area, with a Muslim majority and, since 2002, an autonomous region. Despite the signing of yet another peace agreement in March 2014, the definitive end of hostilities still seems far away.
Defense and security
Linked to the United States by a mutual defense treaty since 1951, the Philippines stood by Washington’s side throughout the Cold War period, supporting US engagement in the Korean and Vietnam wars. In 2003 Manila joined the US-led coalition involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, it should be emphasized that in a strategic context such as that of Southeast Asia, the Philippines devotes a lower share of GDP to military spending than all the ASEAN states bordering the Pacific. Similarly, Philippine arms imports – 72% of which come from the US- in the last decade, they have recorded expenditure that is decidedly lower than the average for the region. This trend was partially challenged by the decision to allocate, for the 2016 budget, 550 million dollars to the modernization of the Armed Forces. A real turning point for the country, considering that the same budget item in 2013 was five times lower.
In terms of security, the main threat to Manila comes from the home front. After the signing of the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the stability and effective exercise of state sovereignty were jeopardized by the presence on the territory of many armed groups: from the New People’s Army to the smaller Rajah groups Solaiman and Abu Sayyaf – the latter linked to the al-Qaida network -, who have been responsible for various attacks and kidnappings in recent years. This challenge is accompanied by that represented by the spread of violence and extrajudicial or political killings.
The Moor Islamic Liberation Front
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was born in 1984 from an offshoot of the Moro National Liberation Front (Mnlf), a national liberation movement which, in the 1960s, had started a guerrilla activity against the Philippine government at the aim of obtaining independence from the central state of the areas inhabited by the Moorish population of Muslim religion. In October 2012, the signing of an agreement between the MILF and the government rekindled hopes for peace, once again jeopardized by the clashes that occurred in September 2013. The signing of a new agreement, in March 2014, is just the last act – for now – of a peace process still far from definitive conclusion.