President Rodrigo Duterte’s repeated delays of his earlier decision to end the Philippines’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States means the country’s independent foreign policy has yet to have a clear direction, a party-list lawmaker said.

“Ang foreign policy natin nasa konstitusyon lang,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said in the virtual “Tapatan sa Aristocrat” forum on June 23. “Maging issue dapat ito sa 2022 elections. Ano ba talaga ang tindig natin?” he added.

Zarate pointed out that while the country had pivoted toward China, the US’ chief rival in the region, the Philippines still saw the neighboring country as a threat in the military security domain. “There is still distrust and mistrust in China,” he said.

Dennis Gorecho said in the same forum that in the coming elections, Filipinos “should vote on the issues, not personalities.”

“Ang issue ng independent foreign policy ay ‘di nakakarating sa mga tao unless i-convert natin sa kung anong malapit sa kanila. Ayun nga, ‘yung mga mangingisda, wala silang nahuhuli, walang pagkain,” the lawyer said.

“Lalabas ulit yang issue na yan this year, ‘yan ang abangan natin. Anong version ng jet ski promises ang ibibigay ng mga kandidato at paano nila liligawan ang boto ng ating mga botante?” he added.

In 2016, Duterte made a promise to the fisherfolk that he would ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands, but took it back in his May 2021 address and said it was a “pure campaign joke.” Kelsey Telo