Foreign policy, while not usually an electoral issue in the Philippines, now looms large in the country’s politics. All five aspiring candidates for the May 9 presidential election have stressed their determination to improve the country’s international relations. There are some immediate challenges: A forthcoming ruling on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea is likely to affect the foreign policy positions of all the presidential candidates. But regardless of the ruling, it is clear that all candidates will seek better ties with China.
This does not mean that any of the candidates would forgo the country’s revitalized alliance with the U.S. Nor would any neglect the Philippines’ growing strategic partnerships with Japan and Vietnam or its comprehensive partnership with Australia. Only one candidate, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, has stated a need for renegotiating defense ties with the U.S. Moreover, any new administration will seek closer ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, knowing that the group will play a crucial role in the Philippines’ strategic and economic future. The new president will enter office halfway through preparations for the country’s role of chairing ASEAN in 2017.