Cayetano’s loss of voice was fortunate for Asean meetings

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YEN MAKABENTA

First word
WITH Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s compulsion to talk, it was fortunate (providential?) that Alan Peter lost his voice and hence could not take part in the crucial discussions that made the difference between success or failure of the Asean meetings.

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This way, he could not muddle the progress of Asean 50, make more thorny the major disagreements between states, or scuttle the substantive gains of the meetings.

A review of Cayetano’s statements before, during and after the Asean meetings shows that we Filipinos escaped flopping by the skin of our teeth.

Here are key specimens of Cayetano’s cockeyed garrulity at Asean 50.

1.” Nobody’s perfect”

Take the attendance of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the crucial meetings.

Before the man could touch Philippine soil, Cayetano already announced that Tillerson would bring up US concerns about human rights in the Philippines. And he indicated what he (Cayetano) would tell his US counterpart. He said that he would say, “nobody (no country) is perfect in its human rights situation.”

As things turned out, Tillerson did not raise the subject or use the term during his meeting with President Duterte or during his statements at the Asean meetings.

Tillerson said on Monday that there is no contradiction and conflict in the interest of the US government to provide assistance to the Philippine military fighting the Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute terrorists in Marawi City.

“With respect to the assistance we’re providing the Philippine government to respond to ISIS, there is really no contradiction at all in the support we’re giving them in the fight down in Marawi and Mindanao,” he said.

“I see no conflict, no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of other human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counter-narcotics activities,” he added.

This does not mean that the US has totally turned away from the stance adopted by President Obama and his State Department. This only means that human rights issues are right now low on US priorities.

The surest indicator of this is the plan of the US to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in the same way that it has pulled out from the Paris climate change deal.

In a major op-ed piece published in US papers, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley delivered a withering critique of the UNHRC, and signified that her country is studying whether to withdraw from the council. The question, she said, “was whether the Human Rights Council actually supports human rights or is merely a showcase for dictatorships that use their membership to whitewash brutality.”

Had Cayetano and the DFA known about this, he would not have blabbered foolishly about a prospective conversation with Secretary Tillerson. They could have anticipated that Tillerson would not wish to upset his Filipino host with ill-considered or ill-timed remarks about Duterte’s drug war.

And they might have anticipated DU30’s surprising declaration to Tillerson that the Philippines is America’s “humble friend in Asia.”

2. “Shaming China”

After the Asean meetings had closed with evident success, and our distinguished guests were already on the way home, Cayetano held a press conference to deliver a bizarre personal assessment of the meetings.

He accused some people of having political motives to shame China. They wanted to frame the South China Sea issue as between the Philippines and China as a way to shame Beijing.

Cayetano was reacting to statements that the communique of the Asean Foreign Ministers meeting was weak. He accused the critics of viewing the current situation in the South China Sea from an old lens that do not reflect the events of the past year. He added that these individuals simply wanted China to be humiliated before the international community.

If these belated remarks are designed to curry favor with China, Cajetan should think again. The Chinese have a huge reputation for inscrutability in negotiations. They are not likely to be entranced by small talk.

3. “A loud but calming voice”

At the closing ceremony of the 50th grand celebration of Asean on Tuesday, Cayetano delivered an incredible and embarrassing speech that puts to shame Philippine diplomacy and hospitality.

He boasted that the Philippines will have a “loud but calming” voice in the international community in accordance with the Duterte administration’s foreign policy.

He declared: “When President Duterte announced to the Philippines that we will now be standing on our feet, that we will now be implementing an independent foreign policy, that the Philippines will have a loud but calming, firm but stabilizing voice in the international community, I could not say no to him.”

Cayetano said that he almost “lost hope” that members of Asean would come up with a joint communiqué amid the wrangling between states over the final communiqué. “I sort of lost hope, to be honest. I told myself, how in the world can we find a consensus?” Cayetano said.

The melodrama is loud. It calms no one.

4. “No ‘militarization’ and ‘reclamation’ in communique”

If Cayetano had had his way, the Asean communiqué would not have borne the words “reclamation “and “non-militarization.”

With the Asean meetings over and the delegates already departed, Cayetano still could not stop talking. He would not let go of the vain hope to shape public perception of the meetings in Manila.

In so doing, our top diplomat unwittingly disclosed a secret Philippine agenda at the meetings. Cayetano told the media that he did not want to include mention of China’s reclamation and militarization activities in the South China Sea in the foreign ministers’ joint communiqué.

But in defiance of his wishes, the communiqué issued Sunday evening explicitly mentioned “reclamation” and “non-militarization” in the disputed waters.

A sane man would have discreetly retreated, but Cayetano charged on and described the communiqué as a compromise between Asean states that wanted a “strong” statement on the South China Sea and those that wanted a “weaker” one.

Cayetano made manifest that the Philippines wanted a weak communiqué, and that we were the one most opposed to having the arbitral ruling mentioned or even hinted at in the text. Cayetano’s chairmanship of the meeting served no purpose but this.

Without Alan Peter as filter, most people, our guests included, will probably concede that the Asean meetings were a big success, and probably worth every peso. Behind the scenes, Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr., the director-general for operations of the Asean 2017 National Organizing Council, made things work smoothly without a hitch.

With Alan Peter acting as the master of ceremonies, the extravaganza looked at times like a step backward for Philippine diplomacy. With voice restored, Cayetano is a roll of the dice for the republic.

President Duterte should bear this in mind in the preparations for the leaders’ summit in November. The cast of characters this time, starring Trump, Xi, Putin, among others, will not allow a factotum to grab the microphone.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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