This merry month of May, millions of Filipinos celebrated the triumph of EI Gamma Penumbra, this shadow play group from Batangas in the Asia Got Talent competition in Singapore. The Filipino dancers did it with imagination,grace and precision. Now, millions of Filipinos are hoping that the government will emulate with the same talent and purpose to resolve two issues which the country faces moments of truth: The West Philippine Sea (WPS) and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
The aggressive reclamations and improvements by China of submerged areas in the South China Sea are being matched by increased decibels of concern, worry,”probing” and warning from the US,EU,some members of Asean and other individual members of the international community.Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China’s “will to safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock and it is unshakeable,” On the the other hand , US Secretary of State Kelly said that it will “continue to fully exercise” the right to operate in international waters and airspace. How much of these statements are bluster /rhetoric will reach their denoument in the next few weeks.
The reality is that China will no longer budge from the seven reefs they have occupied and enhanced,considering the history of Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal .The affirmative words and actions are after-the-fact reactions, Was there a failure of intelligence or negligence from the US and its allies?With their advance technology, they should have discovered the Chinese actions at their early stages and should have done something about them.
The challenge for Philippines foreign policy and diplomacy is to craft a creative and pragramatic and agile approach to these rapid developments. Considering the situation the country is, in we should welcome and support the “resolute policy” of the US and its allies against China actions in the South China , in the hope that this new policy will deter further occupation of disputed areas by China. However such creative and pragmatic approach should always be within the mantra of the protection and promotion of our national interests.
The Philippine should already have plans in case we win or lose in the Arbitral Panel. In either case, eventually, we have to talk to China. The parties to a dispute cannot resolve an issue without talking to each other. While we prefer a global and regional approach to a bilateral mode, these approaches are not mutually exclusive of each other. The negotiating table is the best equalizer and we should not approach our negotiation in awe or in fear of the other side.Ifwe have not done so, we should ask the Panel to issue provisional measures against China’s acts of “effectivities” in the South China Sea.
We have also advocated the conclusion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea.In pursuing our advocacy, we should always bear in mind China’s position.”when this time is ripe”which may never happen because China abhors any mechanism where they will assume obligations. The process must now move beyond its “consultations” stage. We must have a draft code already to which China can react or become engaged,We adopted this approach when we negotiated with China the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
EDCA has not achieved the purpose because we are unable to convey to China the correct message.
We are overly coy in hedging that the agreement is not against China and from too much efforts debating its pros and cons.
It is time the Philippines open and reopen lines of communication with China.Vietnam and Malaysia have been successful in this course of action. Back charmeling done with skill and finesse is an effective avenue to improve bilateral relations . The role of businessmen,Chinese are now one biggest capitalists in the world,should be tapped,contact with the PLA (who controls policy in the SCS) should be developed. “Second Track” diplomacy should be pursued.
It is the height of naivete, the Chinese calls it insanity, to persist in doing the same thing over and over again in the hope of achieving a different outcome.
At the outset ,an obiter :The Bangsamoro Basic Law is still a bill, The challenge for legislature is to ensure that what will became law should really give peace and justice a chance. The Framework Agreement and the Comprehensive Agreement did not ,because foreign influences were allowed to dictate the process and substance of this negotiations.
The first priority is to regain ownership and leadership of the peace process.Only an agreement conceived midwifed and born out of domestic efforts by all stockholders will succeed because it will embody the realities and dynamics on the ground. The original sin of the can be traced to the time when we decided to internationalize what should have been an internal issue in the process bestowing status of belligency and hubris to the other side.Undue importance was given to the role of a motley group of nations and groups which may their own agenda. The decision to choose Malaysia as facilitator is unwise and ill- advised,There is a growing realization that the Bangsamoro documents were drafted in, by, and for, Kuala Lumpur.The result is what retired Supreme Court chief justice Renato Puno laments.why it seem that we are the ones who are scares an negotiating from a position of weakness “ We are witnessy a spectacle where the executive department ,the membership of negotiating panel ,and the MILF are one in efforts to justify a patently bad BBL .
The second priority is to recalibrate the process and take advantage of lessons learned from history . It is important to keep in mind that the vision of the leaders from other side has always been a separate state for Bangsamoro. Any agreement must be representative of all stakeholders and must consider equations from other issues like Sabah and status of ARMM,.The success of any agreement will depend on the political will from both sides and will be a quantum leap of faith and trust ,especially from the MILF.
The third priority is to end the debilitating debates where rhetorics and emotions often reign,and divide rather unilthe nation .A mission which aims for a perfect document is a recipe toward a perfect storm. There should not be a rush to enact. After all the important aspect of implementation of any law will slide into the next administration.A moro moro is happening in the House of Representatives, accompanied by semantics and red herrings. Even dyslexia seem to have pervaded the consideration of the BBL by its Peace Council the Frames of Constitution.
The nation is divided on the “BBL”. It is time for the actors on both sides to come out of their shadows and pursue their common vision, their common mission of peace, justice and sustainable development in Mindanao.As one poet said ,somewhere between right and wrong there is a garden, let us meet there.
Enlightend leadership, honesty and mutual trust and understanding are needed. What should come out from all these debates should be one that will ensure that the people on the ground will be the winners,like the EL GAMMA PENUMBRA.
Amb.Lauro Baja is chairman of the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation,Inc (PAFI)