Media’s lens on Marcos Jr.’s foreign travels

By Bernard Sta. Ana II

Media’s coverage of these trips is highly relevant as foreign travel has become become a major occupation of the President’s office. It helps the public to understand the classification of every trip the President makes,

as these make a difference in cost.

SINCE TAKING office in June 2022, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos (BBM) went on six trips abroad in his first six months as President.  These were state or working visits. Media’s coverage of these trips is highly relevant as foreign travel has become become a major occupation of the President’s office. 

It helps the public to understand the classification of every trip the President makes, as these make a difference in cost. For a state visit, the host country is responsible for the costs of the official delegation during their stay. For a working visit, the visiting country undertakes the expense, meaning, taxpayers’ money. The different members of the delegation may also shoulder their own expenses. Transparency about these accounts should be part of official briefings. 

While foreign trips are costly, these present opportunities to advance international partnerships and bring home future investments. However, media need to follow up on whether these opportunities actually bear benefits for the people, as inaction on either side can waste initial efforts.

Indonesia and Singapore state visit

Presidential travel makes big news, with reports listing the gains and expectations for productive agreements. Media reports of the state visits to Indonesia and Singapore were front-page and banner stories, following the calendar of events, not just of the President but also of the other officials traveling with him. 

Media reported that Marcos Jr.’s Indonesia state visit in September took home billions worth of future investments. Amounting to PHP804 billion, agreements were closed on investments in the areas of renewable energy, infrastructure, global technology, and agrifood. It also led to the signing of four mutual agreements between the Philippines and Indonesia in the areas of culture and defense. 

From Jakarta, Marcos flew to Singapore for a two-day state visit from September 6 to 7. After meeting with both Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Halima Jacob, the Philippines and Singapore governments signed five agreements concerning counterterrorism, digital cooperation, infrastructure development, personal data protection, and water collaboration.

The President made a second visit to Singapore, which media did not know about before the trip. Even Palace Spokesperson Trixie Cruz-Angeles became aware of it only from social media. 

A page turned in PH-US relations

Having ruled the Philippines as a colony for fifty years, the US had dominated Philippine foreign policy for decades after the country’s independence. President Duterte however shifted the historic emphasis of the country’s foreign relations with his pivot to China, threatening to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in 2020. Duterte declared publicly his admiration for Xi Jin Ping and Vladimir Putin. as he publicly insulted US President Barack Obama. 

Instead of balance, Duterte’s foreign policy simply shifted loyalty and submission to the superpower in the region. For most of his term, Duterte said he could not do much to uphold the country’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as Chinese militia freely roamed Philippine waters ignoring diplomatic protests issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Media picked up on the shift to improve relations with the US in the early months of the new Presidency, when Marcos received US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. 

In this context, the President’s working visit to the US was clearly most significant. He went to New York for six days to attend and to address the opening of the UN General Assembly. But on several levels, he signaled a a dramatic departure from his predecessor’s anti-US/pro-China policy. 

BBM’s pivot to the US was fittingly noted by media reports highlighting his one-on-one dialogue with US President Joseph Biden. The press also reported on Marcos’ meetings with global investors at the New York Stock Exchange to promote the Philippines and the importance of the US in his vision for the country’s future.

VP Kamala Harris’ State Visit

The US responded promptly when US Vice President Kamala Harris made the first executive state visit on November 20.

Harris’ arrival in the Philippines last November was deemed timely as it happened days after the encounter between the Philippine Navy and a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel in Palawan waters. The Chinese vessel reportedly seized floating debris — presumed from a launched Chinese rocket — that the Philippine Navy personnel were attempting to tow ashore. 

Continuing turbulence in the WPS could pose more problems and challenge the moves made by BBM to shift the balance in terms of dealing with two global superpowers. (The President traveled to China in January 2023.)

It is difficult to say at this time whether or not these trips have produced tangible results. It often takes time for the full impact of diplomatic efforts to be realized. Filipinos must know how these trips benefit them or ease the difficulties that burden their lives. The President would be wise to consider the balance between foreign and domestic priorities, and to communicate what positive outcomes will make life better for his people. 

The President should bear in mind that the challenges he faces at home must remain his primary priority.