Diplomatic embarrassment

LAST WEEK, the Philippines as the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) hosted the annual summit of the foreign ministers of the group.  Instead of praise, the Philippines was rebuked by allies in that summit.

The Tatay Digong’s foreign policy has become a diplomatic embarrassment for the country due to the present administration’s pivot to China.  The image of the Philippines as China’s lapdog has tarnished and considerably damaged the international image and reputation of the country.

Territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea is the main source of the country’s diplomatic shame. Philippines as one of the main of contenders in the dispute was demoted from the hero to villain in the territorial row, thanks to the claimed diplomatic “shrewdness” of the present administration.

A year ago, the Philippines was the toast of the world in relation to the dispute in the West Philippines Sea. Lacking military, economic or political clout to advance its position in the territorial wrangle, the Philippines resorted to the “rule of law” and the civilized way of settling disagreement to protect its territorial claim.

Challenging China’s nine-dash-line which declared that ninety percent of the South China Sea is belongs to this neighborhood bully; the Philippines brought its case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague. The Philippines anchored its case on the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (Unclos) and sought the protection of international law to defend its territorial integrity.

In a landmark ruling released a year ago, the PCA ruled in favor of the Philippines. The PCA upheld the 370-km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines and invalidated China’s nine-dash-line based on spurious historical claim. The court also declared that the artificial islands built by China do not generate their own EEZ since they are not capable of sustaining habitation.

The ruling effectively declared not only China’s claim as illegal but also its activities in the area as well. Despite being a signatory to the Unclos and has ratified it, China refused to accept the ruling and continued to insist on its dubious and patently unlawful activities in area.  China’s defiant only exposed it as an aggressor and a bully.

Philippines as the winner in the case made a complete turn-around of its position when Du30 assumed the presidency. Using the cowardly and traitorous argument that to insist on the ruling is to court war with the bully in the neighborhood, it set aside the PCA ruling. China which is only too glad and extremely happy to see the Philippines abandons its victory to dilute the impact of the PCA ruling tempted Du30 with the glitter of gold.

For turning its back on its historic triumph in the PCA, the Philippines is now viewed by the rest of the civilized world as a clown and a joke. Worst, the country is dangerously behaving like Cambodia, the pawn of China in the ASEAN. For the failure of the Philippines to assert the case it valiantly fought and won, the country is now being looked at as China’s lackey in the region joining the ignominious Cambodia.

Acting as China’s next boy on the bloc, the Philippines in the ASEAN foreign ministers’ summit once again expressed reluctance to bring up the territorial dispute in the meeting and did nothing to prevent Cambodia from insisting on deleting the issue in the joint communiqué of the ten ASEAN foreign ministers. But Vietnam, the other major claimant in the dispute wanted the territorial row to be mentioned in the joint communiqué with the use of strong language against China.

Displaying his clumsiness as host and diplomatic incompetence, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano excused himself on the second day of the summit where the most contentious issue of the West Philippine Sea was brought up. For a while it appeared that China will again have its way in silencing ASEAN and prevent it from making a stand on China’s land-grabbing activities.

For a change, the ASEAN foreign ministers now more alarmed and worried of China’s aggression issued a stronger statement. Without naming China, the ministers called for “non-militarization and self-restraint” and spoke against “land reclamation activities.”  Despite Cambodia’s efforts in tacit alliance with the host Philippines, China did not carry the day in the summit.

Further embarrassing the Philippines, the US, Australia and Japan for the first time rebuked the country for failing to press the victory it won in the PCA in the summit. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono issued a joint statement slamming both the Philippines and China. “The ministers called on China and the Philippines to abide by the arbitral tribunal’s 2016 award in the Philippines-China arbitration, as it is final and legally binding on both parties,” their statement said.

Philippines won the case and it is tragic that as victor it is being called upon by its allies to pursue and assert the victory.  Such statement reveals how low these countries look at the Philippines for abandoning its own position.  Instead of leading the charge in pressing the ruling, the Philippines has been reduced by China to subservience. Instead of standing for what are morally and legally right, the Philippines has become a pathetic entity in Southeast Asia, whimpering and cowering despite winning a historic and crucial legal victory.

Aside from finding itself in a very discomforting situation, Du30’s sell-out to China has compromised the future of the country.  It will hard and difficult for the future generation to defend the territorial integrity of the country and assert the PCA ruling since the current administration has abandoned it. This is a tragedy of epic proportion!

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