Teaching International Relations in the Philippines: Opening Spaces While Maintaining Traditional Approaches.

AuthorKraft, Herman Joseph S.

The evolution of International Relations (IR) as a field of study in the Philippines has largely been shaped by its framing as a sub-field of the discipline of Political Science. One of the early texts written by notable Filipino scholars as an introduction to the discipline of Political Science highlights that the first international conference of political scientists held in Paris in 1948 approved a disciplinary "scoping" that recognized four specialized fields that constituted Political Science--an accord that was adopted by those working in the discipline in the Philippines. IR was one of those identified specialized fields that focuses on International Politics, International Organizations and Administration, as well as International Law. (1) There is a second aspect to understanding the antecedents of IR in the Philippines. This is very much connected to the history of Political Science as a discipline in the country. Political Science began largely as a pre-law course for law programmes, the latter of which were designed to produce highly trained personnel for the bureaucracy during America's colonial rule (1898-1946). (2) In this context, the teaching of IR was more about the practice of foreign policy and diplomacy and less about the theoretical and conceptual aspects of the discipline. This dichotomy between the academic and policy/practitioner aspects of the field has shaped the trajectory of IR as a discipline in the Philippines until today.

IR in the Philippines has since adopted a more nuanced appreciation for the field as a subject of study as opposed to the practice of IR which emphasizes foreign policy-making and the protection of national interests. This study is an attempt to understand how much movement there has been in the purpose behind IR curriculum and how it is taught in the Philippines. It is part of the broader discussion concerning how much the Philippine experience informs what kind of IR and how IR is taught in academic institutions across the country. This article argues, nonetheless, that even as the Philippine case shows a slowly emerging awareness of a broader geographical context within which IR can be--and arguably should be--studied, the field remains dominated by a more traditional (read Western) conceptual and theoretical approach and understanding.

The article is structured around three main points. The first part focuses on the state of the field at present, which includes a discussion on the main conceptual, theoretical and methodological trends that characterize IR in the Philippines. The second part discusses the principal challenges and opportunities to the advancement of IR as a discipline in the Philippines. The third part examines the prospects for the further development of IR as a field of study in the country.

The State of IR in the Philippines

The analysis presented in this article is derived from the results of a survey of full-time faculty members based at tertiary level institutions in the Philippines who teach courses that are related to IR. The details of the survey are discussed in the introductory article of this special issue. For the Philippines, a total of 28 respondents were able to contribute to the findings presented in this article (out of 64 who were invited to participate). This translates into a response rate of 43.75 per cent. The respondents were divided almost equally along gender lines, with almost 40 per cent holding the rank of professor or associate professor. The results were supplemented with archival materials from the University of the Philippines, and interviews with select experts that were intended to explore more in-depth the context of the teaching and research of IR in their respective institutions.

Given the intellectual link between IR and Political Science mentioned earlier, a question worth exploring is the extent to which IR has contributed to the Political Science literature in the Philippines. An extensive study of this literature would allow the mapping of the different topics, whether theoretical or otherwise, covered by Filipino researchers studying national politics. A good starting point is a 2020 study that examined articles published in the Philippine Political Science Journal (PPSJ) between 2000 and 2019. This study gives an indication of the extent to which IR contributes to the discourse on Political Science in the Philippines. (3) According to the author, Jan Robert Go, around 29 per cent of the articles published in the PPSJ covered fully or in part subject matters that could be related to IR. Only five per cent, however, was about the field or involved subject matters relating to the development of the field. Most of the others related to more specialized areas of concern such as migration, globalization and what was categorized as supranational integration and processes. The latter, not surprisingly, is mostly about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with some notable attention given to the European Union.

This is a rather small sample of work done by Filipino scholars on issue areas that are related to IR. The PPSJ, however, has become the principal outlet for scholarly discussions of Philippine politics in the period covered in the study. It is a good starting point for any reflexive thinking on the state of IR in the Philippines. The study shows that within the discipline of Political Science, subject matters related to IR contributed a little over a quarter of the discourse in the discipline. Furthermore, articles on conceptual and theoretical developments in the field constituted an even smaller proportion of this population. These findings suggest that the field of IR in the Philippines continues to place an emphasis on policy- and issue-centred research and publications. In this context, references to theoretical and conceptual approaches are instrumentally directed and meant to inform analyses or discussions on issues and policies. These studies are less likely to contribute to the deepening of the overall discussion about IR as a field of study. This observation points to the relevance of ongoing debates in Comparative Politics revolving around the dichotomy between general explanation (theory-building exercises) and the experience of particular regions and countries (area studies) to the study of IR. (4) More specifically, Philippine IR scholars tend to use local case studies to validate current theories which are considered to be Western in the orientation of their foundational assumptions. It is very rare that the findings of research on Philippine IR become in and of themselves the basis for theory-building, or even for forcing an inquiry into the universal applicability of these theories.

The fact that issue- and policy-oriented research dominates IR inquiry in the Philippines is also reflective of the residual influence of colonial legacies and the objectives behind the introduction of public education (including tertiary-level social science fields like IR). This is reflected in the significant number of studies on Philippine-US relations in the Philippine IR literature, and this topic continues to...

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