FOR the sake of decency and correctness, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario should desist from issuing statements and press releases designed to influence the deliberations and decisions of the leaders’ summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which is scheduled to take place in Manila this week. He should not insert himself further into this important foreign policy meeting.
Mr, del Rosario used to be the nation‘s top diplomat. But today, he is no longer a diplomatic official of the republic, let alone our foreign secretary. Today, his gratuitous statements are in danger of being construed as expressing the position and thinking of the Philippine government, even if they are clearly not. He could preempt precious space and opportunity from President Rodrigo Duterte who will chair the Asean summit, and of our true delegates and officials who have roles to play in this landmark summit during the 50th anniversary of Asean.
We think it fitting to fault Mr. del Rosario for his ill-advised decision to interpose himself and express his private opinion on the expected discussion of a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea (COC), and then also to express his disappointment over a draft of President Duterte’s statement as chairman of the summit. He took issue with the draft‘s failure to mention China’s island-building activities in the SCS and the ruling of the international arbitral tribunal on China’s expansive maritime claims.
Mr. Del Rosario declared: “The draft of the Chairman’s Statement is deeply disappointing and, if not revisited, would manifest an absence of the desired leadership.”
The former Filipino diplomatic official is, of course, free to express his thinking on what is best on the SCS dispute as a private citizen. But as a former top diplomat of our government, he should know the sharp and critical difference between private opinion and official opinion.
It would be different if Mr. del Rosario were just expressing his views in an opinion piece for a newspaper. There he would have full freedom to say whatever he wants. But it is another thing altogether for him to act as though he were still acting on behalf of our people and government.
We are cognizant and mindful of his work as foreign secretary in the Philippines’ fateful pursuit of the case it filed against China in the Hague court.
Indeed, we have hailed the victory that the republic won in the Hague ruling.
What is troubling now is his brusque attempt to insert himself and his views into the summit deliberations and discussions. This is diplomatically wrong. It is a disservice to our country and to our Asean community.
Del Rosario, who led the Philippines in filing the arbitration case against China’s nine-dash-line claim over the disputed waters with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, has been urging the Philippine government to assert effective leadership in the Asean by bringing up the arbitral award.
However, the Asean summit under Philippine chairmanship this year, is likely to go soft on the sea row.
The draft statement only expressed serious concerns “by some leaders” over the “escalation of activities in the area.”
“We shared the serious concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region,” the draft statement said.
Asean countries came up with proposals for the adoption of a binding Code of Conduct after Beijing adopted the nine-dash-line claim to the South China Sea region in 1992 and occupied the Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef in 1995. After two decades of discussions, they have only managed to come up with a non-binding Declaration of a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea (DOC).
Asked at a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday if China would be willing to support a legally binding and enforceable Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea, the Chinese foreign ministry only said that a framework will be finished by June.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the situation in the disputed waters was cooling down following joint efforts of China and Southeast Asian countries.
“The relevant parties have returned to the right track of resolving disputes through negotiations and consultations, and are fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) as well as actively advancing the consultation on a COC,” Geng said.