Strategy in arbitration case needs rethinking

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IN a famous essay at the height of the Cold War in 1952, “The Dangerous Amateurs,” the famed political philosopher Walter Lippmann warned against the dangers that amateur diplomats pose to the work of diplomacy, and how if unrestrained, they could make “diplomacy suffer unnecessarily.”

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We think of his words today as we monitor the progress of the jurisdiction hearings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, and observe how the project appears to have gotten out of control.

When the original seven-member delegation departed for the Netherlands last week, we wished it Godspeed, because we considered its mission a worthy cause: the presentation of the nation’s case against China’s incursion into national territory in the Spratlys and in what we call the West Philippine Sea.

When the delegation suddenly swelled to 35 members, we were dumbstruck. How can adding more bodies and factotums improve our standing with the arbitration court? Already, some are saying that the pent-up passions of the Administration for a junket have been released by this mission.

Also, people in The Hague are talking that our case is involving as many or more people than the trials of Milosevic and other accused war criminals in the Bosnian conflict.

Just when we were recovering our breath, Philippine Communist Party Chairman Jose Maria Sison suddenly came from out of the blue and issued his own statement in support of our government’s position in the dispute and some criticism of China. We wondered, mouth agape, about this turn of events.

Will Sison’s moral support bolster our case before the tribunal or sink it?

Will China, which funded Sison’s founding of the CPP in 1968, relent from its massive reclamations in the disputed waters, after seeing one of their old comrades take a position against them?

We were skeptical that this CPP intervention would go anywhere. But then, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, accompanied by House majority leader Neptali Gonzalez, decided to strike out on their own for a bit of peacemaking. He conducted informal talks with Sison about the renewal of peace talks between the government and the CPP.

They figured that they could justify their costly presence in The Hague by generating some publicity and a photo opportunity.

We need to get serious about this whole business by recognizing that this recourse to arbitration is a crucial part of our diplomacy as a nation. It is not a picnic. It is a serious effort to advance our national interest, and our standing in the world.

Why did the country’s delegation swell into such numbers? How did these personages become such worthy members of the panel? Why did the speaker go off tangent and suddenly mutate into a peace negotiator or whatever? Did Belmonte and Gonzalez get at least a briefing on the status and situation of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army?

Indeed, we need whatever useful help we can get. But there is a point when this eccentricity in our approach to the hearings can become comical and counterproductive.

One analyst here in the country noted a serious disconnect.

When China offered talks with the Philippines on the dispute, with no strings attached, our government balked and issued a proud statement of refusal.

When the Philippine Communist Party offered to renew peace negotiations, Speaker Belmonte immediately bit. And they all cheerfully posed for pictures.

It appears that some members of the delegation have become self-conscious about their decorative presence at The Hague. They have an irresistible desire to show the folks back home that they are doing some good for the country, and not just enjoying the junket.

This carelessness has immeasurably raised the stakes in the arbitration hearings. If the hearings conclude with the court deciding to take on the case, fine, well done. Come back home.

If they end, instead, with the court declining to get involved, there will be a loud groan here at home.

President Aquino’s foreign policy will get a big black eye. He won’t be able to walk straight for a while.

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8 Comments

  1. Roger Dimasalang on

    Why criticize the number in the delegation? The issue at stake is the sovereignty of our nation over its territory (The Spratly’s Group of Islands which was grabbed by China). We need all the best brains of the country to help in discussing/arguing the case before UNCLOS. Its good many brains are there who are available if a certain point needs to be clarified. We all the intelligent resources we can get. What is at stake is priceless – our freedom and liberty. We just have to recall how China annexed Tibet quietly without the world noticing it. China is doing same approach to our country. The cost to pay for the airfares and accomodations of the 35-man delegation is well-worth it. I hope we will speak with one voice during this time. Stop criticizing the delegation.

  2. the size of the delegation is another act of immaturity. Im sure those excess officials went there just to see Hague like a tourist and waste taxpayers money. sure I want to be there too if I can go for free. the worst is the government should have accepted the bilateral talks offered by china. the government should open all options available. China has a big influence now in world affairs. we may lose this case. lastly, had we modernized our AFP 20 yrs ago when the US bases were closed down then China would have been prevented to grab what they have now and we could have kept them from further intrusion into our EEZs so, whose fault is this? us of course. we did this to ourselves for our leaders shortsightedness and lack of vision. Had late strongman Ferdinand Marcos still president today this would have not happened.

  3. Just an observation if it is an arbitration will it prosper when one of the principal participants refuse to participate? If it proceeds as the Philippines prayed for will it be called arbitration still?
    Have a little doubt about our strategy, our case might be returned for lack of opponents. Of course I want to see all the territories become part of the Philippines for the sake of our fishermen. I am afraid our adversarial position not back up by resources might work against us.
    Hope not.

  4. Indeed, we are fools. China is destined to be the most powerful country on earth. Who wants to shame China ? Only Filipino leaders are ‘shaming’ China. Let us prepare for their reaction.

  5. I wish, nay demand that malacanang submit to us taxpayers a report detailing the process of picking and the reasons for the oversized delegation that went to the Hague explaining the function/s of each person in it. I am no expert but it seems obvious to me that our arguments before the arbitration tribunal will not be enhanced at all by having a bigger delegation I don’t think they will even be allowed to enter the chamber of the arbitrators.

  6. The scheming of of the Yellow gang is atrociously wrong. They decided to go to the Hague to argue that the tribunal has jurisdiction. It is all about political pressure. To advertise it fully, 35 people were sent on a junket to make sure they could get media’s attention. The plan is just another example of wasteful spending with no benefit to the Nation. We are clinging to a hope that the tribunal will rule that as a nation we have jurisdiction over the disputed seas, but first the tribunal must rule it has jurisdiction over such a claim. China’s rule over the seas within its 9 dash line has already been accepted in the international world. We are trying to reverse that opinion. We have zero chance.

    We need to continue to talk with China and make some kind of deal.

  7. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    13 July 2015

    The size of the Philippine Delegation to the Oral Arguments before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands, has nothing to do whatsoever with whether or not the Court will rule that it has JURISDICTION over the China-Philippines territorial dispute case.

    It is the arguments presented by Secretary of Foreign Affairs ALBERT DEL ROSARIO and by a team of international experts on the Law of the Seas led by PAUL REICHLER that will determine how the Court rules on the issue of JURISDICTIOIN.

    The rest of the Delegation–the Executive Secretary, the two justices of the Supreme Court, the Secretary of Justice, the Secretary of Defense, the Solicitor General, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives–are there to give the impression that the high and mighty of the Philippine Government are all fully supporting the case the Philippines has brought against China.

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    Lapulapu1927@yahoo.com