FORMER President Fidel Ramos lauded the decision of the Philippine government to file a memorial before the United Nations questioning China’s nine-dash line territorial claim over islets and shoals in the disputed Spratlys that are well within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
But Ramos insisted that the search for a solution to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute should not end there.
In a chance interview after an Asian Institute of Management (AIM) forum, “Understanding 21st Century China: All Under Heaven?” he said the Philippines needed to establish its position under the rule of law, including international law.
But the former president added that the government should approach the issue from different sides and pursue other alternatives that are not adversarial in nature. “We must have a well calibrated, well measured approach where we show that Filipinos are friendly, helpful, forgiving and generous,” Ramos said.
He stressed that the government must present only one position, one policy, one culture and one face to the world just as he did during his term as term as president.
During his presidency, Ramos said, he always saw to it that there was team work and unity in his Cabinet not only when dealing with domestic affairs, military and police operations and, most important, foreign diplomacy.
He also bewailed the lack of a long-term strategy to address several issues hounding the country including energy, infrastructure, poverty alleviation and territorial disputes.
Ramos said when he was president, his strategy was to come up with programs that would cover an entire generation or at least 25 years to prepare the country for global competition at the turn of the century.
Such an approach must be adopted by the current government instead of embarking on short-term programs lasting three to six years, he added.
Like Ramos, Chito Santa Romana, a former bureau chief of ABC News in Beijing, also raised the need for the government to consider other options for addressing the territorial dispute with China including the strengthening of people-to-people relations with the Chinese.
“China has become the biggest foreign-policy challenge for our country and if you look at the state of relations right now, we are at our lowest end since diplomatic ties began in 1975,” Santa Romana, one of the resource persons in the forum, explained.
According to him the Philippines is entering a very difficult period in its relations with China following the filing of the memorial and there was a clear possibility of further deterioration.
Therefore, strengthening people-to-people ties with Chinese should be one of the options because government-to-government relations are already strained and there is virtually a political ban on visits of top Filipino officials to China.
“When government relations or diplomatic contacts are virtually frozen, the only way to go it is to find opportunities to keep the channels of communications open on a people-to-people level and build bridges of understanding and narrow the gaps in perception,” he said.
To describe how wide the perception gap was between the two countries, Santa Romana added, Filipinos consider China as their least-trusted country based on surveys. The Chinese, on the other hand, look at the Philippines as the second least-trusted country in the world after Japan.
Although filing the memorial has caused further deterioration of Philippines-China relations, he said, the country must pursue the case but should also test new approaches more acceptable to China.
Meanwhile, Rep. Lito Atienza of Buhay party-list urged his fellow lawmakers to support the government’s filing of a protest to strengthen the country’s position in the arbitration case on the West Philippine Sea before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
Atienza cited the fact that all historically recorded past, including the oldest maps during the Spanish period, shows that the disputed islands were part of Philippine territory. The former environment secretary was one of the framers of the country’s position paper submitted to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 2009.
“We must show that Filipinos are united in this cause of protecting what is rightfully ours,” he said.