COMMENTARY

A leading role for the Philippines

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What sensible Filipino will object to President Duterte’s stated general policy of pursuing peace amid the South China Sea row?

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In support of this policy, we in PAFI laud the President’ s decision not to join the US freedom of navigation operation patrols. Freedom of navigation as maintained by PAFI’s legal counsel Alberto Encomienda is not an issue in the South China Sea. It does not figure in the Philippines’ submission to the Arbitration Panel and in the latter’s ruling.

Violation of the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea has not been a fact on the ground . Since the beginning of SCS conflict situation there has been no disruption in the regional seaborne traffic in the South China Sea which is among the busiest in the world. Promoting ‘freedom of navigation” is but a cover for US determination to maintain its hegemony of the world’s seas, and a US response to the challenge posed by China as a rising superpower.

Writers cautioning the US against those operations warn about them as only aggravating the already complicated situation in the South China Sea. They might contribute to the very evil of militarization of the South China Sea the US purports to address. They might even have the unintended effect of encouraging claimants to make more islands of the SCS features.( It has also been pointed out that the patrols may not be in consonance with the Obama administration’s policy of not taking sides in the territorial sovereignty disputes in the SCS.)

PAFI is concerned about freedom of navigation rather for its effects on maritime safety and on the marine
environment and resources which under the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Seas the Philippines and other littoral states are obliged to protect. There is a need for a regional order or regime for the governance of the oceans, including freedom of navigation.

The marine environment in South China Sea has deteriorated because of the littoral states’ neglect and commission of harmful acts such as the undertaking in varying degrees by all claimant states of construction and reclamation activities. According to Rudiger Wolfrum, a member of The Hague PCA Tribunal in his Statement published by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea , coastal States whether unilaterally, bilaterally, or multilaterally can impose limitations to the exercise of the freedom of navigation. The UNCLOS itself in specified cases allows such limitations. Freedom of navigation is not an absolute right.

To fill the need for a regional order for oceans governance and maritime security the ASEAN during the Philippine chairmanship might be persuaded to create an ASEAN Center for Regional Oceans Governance in Davao near the archipelagic heart of the region.

PAFI hopes the Philippines will avail of the opportunity presented by its chairing and hosting of ASEAN to take a leadership role in building a regional order for oceans governance and maritime security. Following is the text of the PAFI Statement in this regard issued by its Chairman, Ambassador Lauro Baja Jr.

“ The Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc (PAFI) urges the Philippines to seize the opportunity presented by its chairing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2017, when ASEAN celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding, to assert and project a leadership role in the construction of regional ocean governance and maritime security as a Philippine contribution to the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. Ocean governance and maritime security are of vital and critical importance to the Philippines and the ASEAN and should be accorded greater and more particular attention in Philippine foreign policy and in the work and aspirations of ASEAN.

The leadership role of the Philippines proceeds from its primal characteristic as an archipelagic state that is highly vulnerable to all maritime issues and concerns, traditional and non-traditional. Geographical circumstances have in fact made the country the strategic epicenter of all aspects of ocean governance and maritime security. It is in the thick of a maritime disputes situation that can drag down regional integration and consolidation.

The archipelagic waters of the Philippines are interconnected with those of the other countries in ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific. The ASEAN seas and central Indo-Pacific maritime region are flanked on their eastern longitudes in a north-south alignment by the three largest archipelagic States, namely the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Carrying more than half of the world’s maritime trade, the seas of ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific are collectively a regional common heritage that must be nurtured and managed comprehensively and seamlessly through joint cooperation among the States concerned as well as extra-regional interested States.

The incorporation of the archipelagic doctrine in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was a hard-won success for the Philippines. UNCLOS consequently is the linchpin and underpinning of the archipelagic state.
But UNCLOS leaves to its State Parties a lot of work, including the legal regime implementing its provisions.
The ASEAN for instance can collectively work on and arrive at a common definition of what constitutes freedom of navigation in archipelagic waters otherwise known as the right of archipelagic sealanes passage.

It is time the issues and concerns of ocean governance and maritime security in ASEAN take off from the talk-shop level and be translated into concrete and specific undertakings and projects. In this regard, PAFI proposes that the Philippines pursue as a flagship project Integrated Coastal Zone Management to benefit the coastal areas of maritime Asia particularly in the revival of the coasts and coastal waters as sources of food and livelihood and in the mitigation of the effects of natural disasters.

PAFI hopes that ASEAN will step up maritime cooperation in its Dialogue Partner arrangements and its relationships with the United Nations system and other international organizations. The Philippines should reiterate its 1996 invitation to the International Maritime Organization to establish a Regional Office with headquarters in the Philippines.

The spirit of “open regionalism” trending in regional organizations may already be discerned in ASEAN Dialogue Partner arrangements. PAFI supports ASEAN approving in this spirit the applications for membership of Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka, countries potentially making an important contribution to regional oceans governance and maritime security.

In approaching issues of regional oceans governance and maritime security, particularly conflict situations such as obtaining in the Spratlys archipelago, PAFI supports the revival of the sociocultural norms originating from the ancient Madjapahit and Sri-Visayan culture of “musyawarah” (consultations) and “mufakat” (consensus).

These are values articulated in the Bandung Declaration of 1955 and given a modern manifestation in the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Their practice is in keeping with the ASEAN vision of “a community that is aware and proud of its identity, culture and heritage with the strengthened ability to innovate and proactively contribute to the global community.”

The Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc.intends to be proactive in conveying inputs to the Philippine Government to help frame national interests for projection in the Philippines’ hosting of ASEAN in 2017. It plans to produce a series of articles on various aspects of ASEAN and relevant core national interests in line with the Philippines’ pursuit of an independent foreign policy that is ASEAN-centered and oriented to the wider Indo-Pacific region.”

Ambassador Jaime J. Yambao is currently Secretary-General of the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation, Inc.

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