The limits and realities of national sovereignty

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YEN MAKABENTA

First word
WHILE we are reveling over President Duterte’s seemingly triumphant joust with the seven-member delegation from the European parliament, and the Human Rights Watch, I submit that it will be instructive for Filipinos to reflect on whether DU30’s understanding of “national sovereignty” is any different from Kim Jong-un’s understanding of the sovereignty of North Korea.

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Philippine diplomacy has forged many more treaties and obligations, and achieved so much more than North Korea in the field of statecraft, since we recovered our independence in 1946. We have a more developed and mature relationship with the international community than the hermit state. And surely DU30 has a firmer grasp of international relations than Kim Jong-un, having been schooled in law and the liberal arts.

Surely also, our president does not subscribe to the now abandoned idea that national sovereignty means total freedom of action by a state in its relations with other nations. Sovereignty originally meant that it is the ultimate authority in the decision-making process of the state and in the maintenance of order. This is the reason why the concept of sovereignty is one of the most controversial ideas in political scienceand international law.

Blistering response to EU and HRW
Like many compatriots, I was both startled and elated by Duterte’s blistering response to the blustery demands and criticisms leveled by the seven-member European mission and the Human Rights Watch against our government.

This is what happens when a state asserts its rights as a sovereign. It was important for DU30 to draw the line. And he quickly got interesting results.

When President Duterte told European Union (EU) diplomats to leave the country in 24 hours and prepare for the severance of relations, it was quickly disclosed that the insolent European delegation does not represent the European Union (EU) at all. The real EU diplomatic mission hastily declared that it fully supports the Duterte government in its campaign against illegal drugs and is committed to growing the long thriving EU-Philippines partnership.

When Human Rights Watch (HRW) arrogantly warned that the Philippines could be ousted as a member of the UnitedNations Human Rights Council (UNCHR), Duterte urged them, to do it now. It was then quickly discovered that HRW has no role whatever in the United Nations; it is only a non-government human rights organization that works as a pressure group.

In 2010, The Times of London wrote that HRW, instead of being supported by a mass membership, like Amnesty International, depends completely on wealthy donors who like to see the organization’s reports make headlines. For this reason, according to The Times, HRW tends to “concentrate too much on places that the media already cares about”.

With its recent statement on the Philippines, HRW was bidding for a headline.

The European group and the HRW are alike in mainly seeking publicity and attention for themselves. Their objective is to annoy and provoke Duterte into impulsive statements and decisions, which will garner some publicity. To some extent they succeeded,because here I am writing about them.

The real score on sovereignty
More important, these sticky episodes should prod our government, and especially the Department of Foreign Affairs, to undertake a more competent study of the real state of sovereignty in international affairs today. It should be able to give better briefings to the President on foreign policy issues.

I have in mind something similar to the excellent introduction by the Britannica to the concept of sovereignty.

The article reviews how during the 20th century important restrictions on the freedom of action of states started to appear. The Hague conventions of 1899 and 1907 established detailed rules governing the conduct of wars on land and at sea. The Covenant of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations (UN), restricted the right to wage war, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 condemned recourse to war for the solution of international controversies and its use as an instrument of national policy.

They were followed by the Charter of the United Nations (Article 2), which imposed the duty on member states to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

Britannica concluded that in consequence of these developments, sovereignty ceased to be considered as synonymous with unrestricted power. States accepted a considerable body of law limiting their sovereign right to act as they please. Those restrictions on sovereignty are usually explained as deriving from consent or auto-limitation, but it can easily be demonstrated that in some cases states have been considered as bound by certain rules of international law despite the lack of satisfactory proof that these rules were expressly or implicitly accepted by them. Conversely, new rules cannot ordinarily be imposed upon a state, without its consent, by the will of other states.

In this way a balance has been achieved between the needs of the international society and the desire of states to protect their sovereignty to the maximum possible extent.

The concept of absolute, unlimited sovereignty did not last. The growth of democracy imposed important limitations upon the power of the sovereign and of the ruling classes. The increase in the interdependence of states restricted the principle that might is right in international affairs. Citizens and policymakers generally have recognized that there can be no peace without law and that there can be no law without some limitations on sovereignty. They started, therefore, to pool their sovereignties to the extent needed to maintain peace and prosperity (e.g., the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the European Union), and sovereignty is being increasingly exercised on behalf of the peoples of the world not only by national governments but also by regional and international organizations.

Walking back DU30 statement
It is commendable that the recent dust-up has been quickly damped down by both Philippine and EU officials. Attention is firmly fixed on a mutually beneficial relationship.

The EU has overtaken the United States and Japan as the largest destination of exports from the Philippines, according to the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA). With $901 million of total exports, EU is the biggest and fastest growing export market for Philippine goods.

The Philippines was granted beneficiary country status under the EU-GSP+ in December 2014, allowing it to export 6,274 eligible products duty-free to the EU market.

Earlier this year, the Philippine government announced that it would no longer accept grants from EU because the bloc interferes with Philippine autonomy.Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia has said,however. that the decision to reject EU grants is “not a policy,” hinting that the government may take back the statement.

Malacañang has walked back Duterte’s remarks asking EU ambassadors to leave in 24 hours, saying that it was just an expression of “outrage” over an irresponsible statement made by visiting European parliamentarians.

It has happened before. It could happen again.

yenmakaabenta@yahoo.com

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