Manila: President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. vowed on Monday to defend Philippine territory against foreign powers, while also promising the country would remain a “friend of all” in his first address to the nation as its new leader.
Marcos, who won a landslide victory in May’s presidential election and was sworn in on June 30, promised to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would pursue an independent foreign policy.
In a comprehensive policy speech to Congress shown live on television, Marcos said he would create jobs by improving tourism, education and modernizing agriculture, while also touching on plans for infrastructure development, tax overhaul and climate-change mitigation and support development. ,
He pointed out that the Philippines’ foreign policy would remain independent, with its national interests acting as “primary guides”.
“Philippines will remain a friend of all and no one’s enemy,” he said.
“I will not preside over any process that would leave an area of one square inch of the Republic of the Philippines to a foreign power.”
The statement, possibly alluding to the Philippines’ historic conflict with Beijing in the South China Sea, drew long praise from Congress.
The South China Sea is a strategic and resource-rich waterway claimed almost entirely by China, but other countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims.
Manila has registered hundreds of diplomatic protests against Chinese activity in the South China Sea over the years after an international tribunal in The Hague dismissed Beijing’s wide-ranging claims to the region in 2016.
Under former President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines had taken a favorable direction from Beijing, attempting to distance the Southeast Asian country from its colonial master America.
With both major powers attempting to increase their influence in the region, their envoys have met separately with the new president in what appears to be a diplomatic push to deepen the alliance.
In early June, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman became the first top foreign official to meet with Marcos ahead of his inauguration. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on a working visit earlier this month, was the first top foreign official to visit Manila since the new Philippines leader took office.
“We will be a good neighbor, always looking for ways to cooperate with the end goal of mutually beneficial outcomes,” Marcos said.
“If we agree, we will cooperate and we will work together. And if we differ, we talk about something else until we develop a consensus,” he said. “After all, that’s the Filipino way.”
In his speech that lasted an hour and 18 minutes, Marcos also said that the government was in talks with Saudi Arabia to resume the deployment of workers in Saudi Arabia since it was suspended in November last year. This was because Manila sought settlement of financial claims worth thousands. Filipino activist.
“We can and will negotiate to ensure that our countrymen working there get decent wages and protect their rights and welfare,” he said.
Saudi Arabia, where more than one million Filipinos work, was the most preferred destination for foreign Filipino workers in 2019, according to government data.
Marcos said Philippines’ Overseas Labor Secretary Susan Opley would travel to Saudi Arabia to deal with the issue in the coming months.
“We will renew the respect and friendship between our two countries, just as my late father and his king did,” he said.