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Explaining the Divide: Legislative Positions on the U.S.-Philippine Alliance

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR1, pp. 9-14


When the Philippine president goes one direction, the Senate goes another. What explains the inconsistent cross-branch support for the U.S.-Philippine alliance? This paper outlines four possible arguments. First, senators’ positions better reflect domestic perceptions of external threat. Second, senators are less constrained by performance legitimacy and have greater latitude to take idealistic positions. In the Philippines, this idealism entails nationalist rhetoric for self-reliance. Third, senators are protective of their constitutional mandate to approve international agreements, and distrust political strategies to circumvent receiving their approval. Fourth, senators are engaged in electioneering. The Philippine Senate is a popular starting line for higher office. To elevate their national profiles, senators may adopt maverick-type personas on hot-button issues that galvanize public attention. In the process, they tend to adopt positions that are seen as opposing the Palace. Advocates of a stronger and better institutionalized U.S.-Philippine alliance must address the gap between executive and legislative preferences. While it has not yet been possible to evaluate the relative importance of each of these hypotheses, policy approaches that reflect these realities are not costly. Part of the gap in threat perceptions may be filled with better briefing and information-sharing with legislators. Senators should have some stake in the success of the alliance, and alliance successes should emphasize mutual gain and not discount the potency of symbols. Filipino and American executive officials should resist the temptation to avoid seeking Senate approval as a matter of expediency. Finally, the oppositional impetus is greatest immediately before presidential elections—so timing will matter for new initiatives.

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About this Volume

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.- Philippines Next-Generation Leaders Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines. With backgrounds from academia, public policy, civil society and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Philippines bilateral security relations.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the positions of its staff, donors and sponsors.

Angelica Mangahas is a PhD candidate at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies. She received her MA in Security Studies from Georgetown University. She previously worked as an analyst and researcher for the Stratbase – Albert Del Rosario Institute in Manila.

Photo: Joint session of the Congress of the Philippines for the 2016 State of the Nation Address (SONA) Source: Public Domain