By Roy Mabasa
Former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada has reiterated his support to the Duterte administration’s independent foreign policy stance and even pitched for closer ties with neighboring China.
“As far as I am concerned, we are an independent country. Nobody can tell us what to do,” Estrada said in an interview with the Chinese online platform IMango, a transcript of which was obtained by the Manila Bulletin on Friday.
In supporting Duterte’s foreign policy direction, Estrada said it is important for any ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) country like the Philippines to pursue an independent stance, which is a way to become a “stronger nation.”
In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, Duterte vowed to continue to assert the country’s independent foreign policy and to continue to reach out to all nations regardless of political persuasions and proximity, “so long as this nation treats us well.”
Independent foreign policy
Estrada narrated his own experience in 2000 when then United States President Bill Clinton called him concerning his all-out military campaign against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao.
“He (Clinton) asked me to desist from continuing my all-out war,” Estrada recalled.
That call from Clinton was followed by a visit by former US Defense Secretary William Cohen who hand carried a letter from the American president asking Estrada to stop his all-out war campaign against the MILF with the promise of helping the Philippines modernize its dilapidated military.
“I said, ‘No, I cannot recall an order because we are an independent country,” the former actor-turned-politician recalled telling the American official.
Relations with China
The Manila mayor said the Philippines should continue to be closer to Beijing as the two countries are “good neighbors.”
“We are closer to China. We are both Asian countries and good neighbors. China was the first trader in the Philippines and I would say most Filipinos… have Chinese blood,” Estrada said.
The Manila mayor said the economic relationship between the Philippines and China is continuously growing, citing, among others, the construction of two bridges across the Pasig River.
“I’m very thankful that China is a big contributor in making this project a realization,” the Manila mayor told the IMango.
The first project will interconnect two of Manila’s historic districts – Binondo and Intramuros – with a 734-meter bridge.
The second bridge, on the other hand, will be 506-meters long replacing the existing bridge connecting Estrella Street in Makati City and Barangka Drive in Mandaluyong City.
The construction of the two bridges aims to improve the capacity and efficiency of transportation in Metro Manila and enhance its road network against natural disasters.
Elected as the country’s 13thpresident in 1998, Estrada’s term was cut short in January 2001 following a bribery scandal that led to the assumption of then vice president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the country’s highest post.