CULTURE AND IDENTITY IN PHILIPPINE FOREIGN RELATIONS: NATION-STATE IN SEARCH OF SOVEREIGNTY

By AILEEN S.P. BAVIERA, Ph.D.

Culture -- defined as a coherent system of beliefs, values, attitudes, norms and skills that are widely shared and deeply held within a given society -- has al-ways been recognized as an important determinant of the behavior of individuals. Identity – which refers to images and perceptions of the self, which then project into how one relates with others of a different group identity, becomes part of the culture of a group when it is strongly and collectively held.

In the study of foreign policy, culture and identity have likewise figured in attempts to explain foreign policy behavior of a nation-state assumed to be a unitary actor. This study explores the extent to which culture and identity can be considered important in how Filipino decision-makers perceive the international environment, define foreign policy interests and objectives in relation to other countries, and try to manage specific foreign policy problems facing the country.

The study uses the concept of national role conception (NRC) to frame the possible effects of culture and identity on foreign policy behavior. NRCs are the shared views and understandings among the national political and administrative elite and the relevant foreign policy community (including decision-makers and their advisors, researchers, analysts and commentators) regarding the proper role and purpose of the nation-state in the international arena. By focusing on the actors and how they define interests and goals based on role expectations and role prescriptions, NRC becomes a useful analytical tool in explaining the linkage between the realms of domestic politics and foreign policy, as well as that between ideas and norms on the one hand, and material interests on the other.

One persistent theme in Philippine foreign relations through the decades has been the need by its political leaders to validate the fact that the postcolonial Philippine state indeed enjoys full sovereignty and independence. The assertion and protection of sovereignty is seen as fundamental to one’s nation-state identity. In seeking to better understand the role of identity in Philippine foreign policy behavior, this research examines two key aspects in contemporary Philippine foreign relations where the question of sovereignty takes center stage. These are relations with the United States since the closure of the American military facilities in Clark and Subic in 1992, and the engagement with China over disputed territory in the South China Sea since 1995.

The empirics of the study are based on interpretevist analysis of statements, reports, commentaries, interviews, and actions by members of the foreign policy elite, or secondary sources referring to the same, with regard to critical episodes in Philippines-U.S. relations and Philippines-China relations. The goal of this exploratory work is to describe and deepen understanding of the role of culture, rather than to explain, or predict, or establish causalities.

This final chapter of the project also provides some partial synthesis to the project by extending the query on the role of culture and identity to some of the issues and cases addressed in the other chapters.