The experiment of hiring a “temp” (meaning a temporary or placeholder) as foreign secretary, who will be in charge of the nation’s foreign relations, is showing its sour fruit.
Temporary Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. has announced to the amazement of many that in hosting the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this year, the Philippines will refrain/desist from bringing up the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague last July 12 in favor of our country against China on our rival claims in the South China (West Philippine) Sea.
At the summit, we will not say a word about the ruling, but by this silence, we will make manifest to our Asean brethren, to China and to the rest of the world, our willingness, nay our readiness, to throw away a priceless verdict, for the sake of looking like a good host and a peaceable protagonist in one of the world’s thorniest territorial disputes today.
The simplest review of the issues would show that disregarding the Hague ruling is a misguided decision on the part of the Philippine government. To be maneuvered into a situation where raising the issue has become problematic is a failure of Filipino statecraft.
Temp Secretary Yasay says we are only setting aside the ruling at the summit for the sake of amicable relations with China. To other countries who will also be in attendance, it will appear as throwing a precious asset for an illusory gain. But what if Laos or Cambodia, which does China’s bidding, sponsors a resolution binding the Philippines to a written pledge to set aside the Hague verdict forever purportedly for the sake of peace? Will Mr. Yasay good-naturedly refrain from opposing the resolution?
We are troubled even more by huge financial considerations.
First, to secure the Hague verdict, our government under President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd spent $30 million (P1.3 billion).
Second, to host the Asean summit, we will be spending an estimated P16 billion – all for the sake of putting up a good show of our politeness.
If the object of hosting the Asean summit is to manifest our lack of interest in placing the Hague ruling up front, why do we have to spend so much in the process?
If as Secretary Yasay says there is “no useful benefit” to raise China’s legal defeat in the summit, why is he more concerned about China’s defeat than with our victory?
Mr. Yasay also says that bringing up the ruling would only prove to be counterproductive because “our government is already on the stage of bilaterally engaging” Beijing on the issue.
He was at least correct on one point in his press conference. He said, “The arbitral ruling is something that’s there. It is a final and binding decision to the parties. Whatever is said or discussed by anyone outside and third parties to that will not change the decision.”
As things stand now, all the Philippines will do is use the decision as a firm legal basis “to pursue its claims and move forward when it engages China in negotiating for the implementation of that ruling.”
China has predictably welcomed the Philippine decision to exclude the PCA verdict during the Asean summit. Its foreign ministry took pains to stress that the issue of the South China Sea is only a matter between China and some Asean nations, rather than Asean as a whole.
The paradox here is that China appears surer about the regional body, than members are about their capability to arrive at decisions to protect their collective interest. Asean’s consensus-driven decision process is often stalled by China’s diplomacy; unless the Philippines shifts gears in the coming summit, things will remain at a standstill.
Given this situation, the best we can hope for is that the burying of the Hague ruling will prove to be as temporary as the foreign secretary who is about to preside over its emasculation.