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.”
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.