Drugs, Death, and Politics

I saw it coming nine months ago while I was writing a PH.CN article about Mrs. Sally Villanueva, a “kababayan”, sentenced to death in Mainland China for drug trafficking.  Knowing in hindsight that there are 70 Filipino death convicts in Mainland China and 45 life-termers and 80 serving lighter sentences and 208 drug cases involving Filipinos in Macau and Hong Kong, China, I knew it would be a recurring issue.

Last Thursday, another “kababayan” faced the same fate that Villanueva had nine months ago. But the feelings of compassion I had for Mrs. Villanueva and her family was different from the feelings I had for the 35-year old from Bataan. In the same way, the attitude I had for the Philippine government and so-called Filipino migrant groups was also different.

Villanueva, I am convinced, was a victim of West African Drug Syndicate (WADS). She was duped by WADS local operatives in the Philippines that there is a job waiting for her in the Mainland. Eager to provide for her hungry family, she took on the promised job. And while her heart is filled with hopes that she finally had her big break, WADS operatives had filled her bags with illegal drugs. Villanueva was an unwitting drug courier. Villanueva was caught by airport police, tried in court with the presence of Filipino representatives from our Consulate in Guangzhou, detained for three years, and executed last March.

On the other hand, the 35-year old and former “sekyu” from Bataan, are one of those under the list of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) of being suspected as a drug courier. This man is way different from Mrs. Villanueva. This man earns US$2000 to US$4000 for every successful delivery of his groups’ goodies in Southeast Asia and Mainland China. On off-season this man and his brotherhood of couriers are one of those Filipino “bakasyonitas” in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Macau.

This man from Bataan is no Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW), the so-called “bagong bayani” who through their blood, sweat, and tears keeps the economy afloat. This man and his brotherhood of couriers are one of the reasons why Filipinos are experiencing racial profiling in airports in Indonesia and Malaysia and China and Japan and elsewhere. This man is one of the reasons why our country has become some sort of a plague in our region. No wonder, this man’s family, knowing his trade even before he was caught by “jingcha 警察”, has requested the Philippine government to make the man’s name unknown to the media.

We all know what kind of mayhem illegal drugs can bring into a society and the Chinese government has made it clear for the longest time that trading illegal drugs in the Mainland is equivalent to death. But syndicates continue to cross the line. The demand for illegal drugs (and foreign prostitutes) in Mainland are ramping in prosperous Chinese cities and the lure of “renmenbi” is simply irresistible.

Since early 2000, illegal drug syndicates (notorious of which is the WADS) have been using Filipinos to act as their conduits for their illegal operations in Southeast and Northeast Asia. Recognizing the dire need of some of our “kababayans” to work abroad and provide for their family and the greediness of local “tulaks” to earn green backs, our English-speaking “kababayans” have become the ideal candidate to transport illegal drugs from one country to another.

Our government knows this fact. PDEA has been providing key information to our government officials about the ins and outs of this illegal trade. As a matter of fact, because of our government officials’ tenacity to crush this illegal operation within our territory, WADS and similar syndicates and their Filipino agents have changed their game plan. From the Philippines, they settled somewhere in Indo-China region and thru their local cohorts are now luring Filipinos (mostly male) to go to Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand for some non-existent work or for some bogus scholarship grant.

Chinese government officials and the Chinese media know this modus operandi as well. They very well know that there are two kinds of Filipino drug couriers – those who are hired agents like the man from Bataan and those who are simply fooled like Mrs. Villanueva. And we, Filipinos, know very well that the Chinese government does not distinguish which one is the Real McCoy. In China, as long as you caught carrying drugs into their country, regardless of circumstances, you’ll end up in jail and face the penalty of death. For the record, no government has ever succeeded in asking the Chinese government in commuting a death sentence to a person convicted of drug trafficking.

Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay and Migrante International know these realities as well. Hence, I was so surprised to see VP Binay exercising the same futile exercise he did last March. We saw him again, asking mercy from the Chinese government to commute or suspend the sentence. “Para que?” The 35-year old man is under the watch list of PDEA. The man was given full assistance from our diplomatic officials in China from the day he was caught up to the day it was announced that he will face the death penalty. The man is one of those dreaded hired drug mules.

I understand that VP Binay is a politician or should I say a compassionate man. I experience this once personally when he visited the wake of my aunt many years ago. Well, as a mayor of Makati, he is known to visit the wake of almost every Makati folks grieving for their deceased loved ones. This is aside from the P2000 a year and birthday cakes for Makati senior citizens. But VP Binay should remember that he is not a mayor of a small city any longer, he is now the Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines. The same goes with the Leftist Migrante International who was very vocal against the execution of the convicted drug trafficker while at the same time burning an effigy of the Philippine president. Talk about compassion and hatred.

This misplaced compassion has made our country a laughing stock among the Chinese media and elsewhere in the region. How come the Philippine government is so quick in asking for mercy for someone who has caused shame for the Philippines? Why should China not execute this man whose illegal trade is causing mayhem to Chinese families and society? What kind of strange politics do the Philippines have? They wonder.

Yes, we can pray, as I also had prayed for the man, but to make an official appeal to the Chinese government and to conduct a public demonstration for the convicted drug trafficker’s sake is something that is quiet disturbing. “Por favor”, can we give our country a sense of dignity. Why paint this false picture of public sympathy? Why should we appear as a weakling to China?

Indeed, Filipino politicians and our 1001 non-governmental organizations’ way of doing politics can be very strange. In the words of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, author of the humorously named Anti-Epal Bill everyone and anyone in Philippine politics tends to be an “epal” for the sake of public recognition and/or future votes.

To my mind, the better way to deal with this particular case and future cases, would be to show no compassion for drug traffickers (regardless of nationality) and to respect the decision the Chinese courts whatever it is. Let the will of the courts and let God’s will be done. At the same time, our government should do every effort possible to remove the stigma that Filipino overseas travelers are potential drug mules. That effort starts with effective and proactive law enforcement, efficient coordination with consulates and embassies and foreign governments, and most importantly – political will.

In a related matter, many Chinese with dubious Filipino nationality (Tsinoys) are serving their sentences in Bilibid because of drug trafficking. Several years ago, Titosen (Sen. Tito Sotto) and then Cong. Ruffy Biazon (now BOC chief) told me that these bad “Tsinoys” are brazenly operating their wicked trade even in prison. They further told me that the main reason why drug syndicates makes our country their favorite hub is because of our country’s weak law enforcement and the absence of death penalty. I absolutely agree.


Kudos to our Philippine Consulate in Xiamen and to Guangzhou Municipal Foreign Affairs Office for rescuing five Filipino women duped into prostitution in the Mainland.

Congratulations to the Philippine Memory Team for placing 2nd (after Team China) in the recently concluded 20th World Memory Championship held in Guangdong, China. The Philippine team bested other teams from the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, Canada, Germany, Italy, Poland, Uzbekistan, South Africa, India, Hongkong, Malaysia, Maldives, and Indonesia.



Challenges in China, Opportunities for the Philippines

Growing up in Manila and having had my schooling in PUP and UP

, seeing people led by left-leaning groups protesting on the streets of Mendiola or along Recto Avenue was a common sight. So frequent that many folks in Manila just got used to it and passionate calls from their leaders and followers to “ang masa, ngayon ay lumalaban!”  (the masses are now becoming assertive!) and “tara na, sumama na kayo” (come on, join us!) would just be tactfully replied by a simple smile and the folksy reply “sige lang, salamat” (ok, thanks) . Others are not so sympathetic though. For some, these rallies just makes the traffic worse and nothing but a nuisance made by “tambay aktibistas” (unemployed activists). For some rabid anti-leftists, these rallies are just mere exercise for the Left’s over-all goal to overthrow the government.

In Mainland China, these frequent protests and rallies are something that I have not seen for the longest time. Yes, there were protest actions especially in the restive provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet over ethnic-political matters, but over-all the Mainland has not been beset by protests and rallies since the infamous Tiananmen Square incident in 1989.  But when thousands of workers in the prosperous province of Guangdong protested and clashed with policemen last week over demands for better pay, things seems to have going to a different direction enough to send some shivers to the Beijing government. A spike of labor activism especially since 2010 and this year have been happening in the Mainland. This comes at a time when China’s zooming economy slowed down after 30 years of unprecedented growth and development. In fact, last year 127,000 mass incidents and protests occurred in the Mainland. (Whoa! That’s way beyond the number of rallies Bayan, Akbayan, Sanlakas, PLM, KPD, PM, and other left-leaning groups launched last year). One striking example of this labor unrest in China was when workers in Toyota China and Honda China protested and demanded for wage increase but not without affecting these companies production output.  Many foreign companies are now moving away from China and going to countries that can provide them the same opportunities provided by China in the past 30 years.

Inflation in the Mainland is increasing and it has caused inconvenience both on the part of the workers and their employers. Wage earners are demanding higher salary to cope up with the increasing cost of living. On the other hand, businessmen and employers are having a tough time adjusting on the new situation since most of them are still caught at a paradigm when labor was abundant and cheap and the economy zooming.   Clearly, while many Chinese are becoming wealthy, and the middle class increasing, the huge numbers of being left behind are starting to voice and act on their social discontent.

This situation in Mainland China reminds me of a particular juncture in the United States’ economic history. During the post-Reconstruction United States (late 1800s) economic growth spiked and it made the rich, richer, increased the numbers of the middle-class, but at the same time left hundreds and thousands of workers living on meager salary, over-worked and under-paid. American policy makers at that time, allowed the rise of labor unions to provide an outlet for the restive workers. In addition, religious freedom in the United States had also played a crucial role in mitigating labor unrest during the post-Reconstruction era. The charity works of religious organizations such as the YMCA had provided relief and comfort to the downtrodden workers and made them to do away with radicalism.

Unfortunately, given China’s political system, independent labor unions are being banned as it worries the Beijing government that once they allow the rise of labor unions, these labor unions would solidify with other labor unions and challenge the government. Workers can only turn to the government-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions whose concern for the workers comes second only to its function to pursue the interest of the government and the ruling party. Hence, without an efficient means to address workers grievances, laborers are left but to take on the streets to advance their interest.

The way I see it, the Beijing government is keenly aware of this situation. None other than PM Wen Jiabao admonished his government to learn to change the way it governs on this changing times if it wants to truly build a harmonious society as envisioned by Pres. Hu Jintao. PM Wen’s idea spurred a passionate debate within and among the mandarins, in the same intensity when Chairman Deng proposed for 改革开放 gaige kaifang (reform and opening) more than 30 years ago. And while China is trying to chart its ways on this challenging times, it would do well if our Philippine economic managers can lure China-based and China-intended businesses and investments away from China and towards our home country. Then, perhaps, if there would be more jobs to make Filipinos busy, there would be fewer rallies in Mendiola.

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Revolutionary Government?

Google Earth satellite imaging caught this unique land form somewhere in a Chinese desert. This appears to many as an aerial/urban warfare training camp.

Yesterday former Assemblyman, three-time Senatorial candidate, and current Department of National Defense (DND) Spokesperson Atty. Jess Paredes spoke what many military and national security advisers have in mind for some time now – a creation of a revolutionary government.

During the weekly Balitaan sa Rembrandt Hotel in Metro Manila, DND Spokesperson Jess Paredes said  “A declaration of a revolutionary government by President Aquino III is an option to restore order in the country. When national security is threatened or at stake, a revolutionary government is an option for the President under the Constitution. Anytime the national security or integrity is at stake, the President is empowered to declare “his own government”.

Paredes further said that martial law is more “formal” while a revolutionary government is more “generic” and anything can happen under such scenario. He also assured that the AFP will follow the chain of command and will comply with any proclamation made by the President as the commander-in-chief.

For many of my Filipino friends who have read this piece of news published yesterday in the Philippine Star, the first thing that came into their mind is that it is a knee-jerk reaction among our defense and military officials to the on-going dilemma that the present administration is having with former President Arroyo. For many, like Raffy Alunan, there is absolutely no need for a revolutionary government besides GMA poses no security or national threat. For many observers, GMA has lost any tangible support from the military establishment and any promptings from her camp to seek support from the military would be futile.

But for those within the military and civilian establishment who are supportive and attracted to the creation of a revolutionary government, a repeat and an enhanced version of Apo Marcos’ “revolution from the center”,  — it is way above and beyond GMA and her issues. It is a matter of national importance and survival.

They see the “revolutionary government” as a major leap forward to clear the Filipino nation of its major roadblock, among others: (1) ever-growing disunity among Filipinos, (2) gridlock of the tripartite government (legislative-executive-judiciary), (3) spiraling down peace and order situation, (4) the half-a-century communist and moro rebellion, and an essential national preparation for (5) an armed conflict between the United States and China.

While items 1, 2, 3, and 4 would give further reason for the logic behind the proposal of revolutionizing our government and political system from the center, the fifth item is one thing that makes the military establishment hopeful that turn of geopolitical events will make their envisioned revolutionary government a necessity. The fifth item supersedes all reasons for the establishment of a revolutionary government.

A “popular, benevolent, authoritarian president” in a “revolutionary government” is needed to prepare and defend the Filipino people to the inevitable thunderheads to come in the Asia-Pacific. The mistake made by the Commonwealth government in the 1930’s when it was terribly caught flat-footed by Imperial Japan ought not to be repeated again. These are the main thesis of a renewed call for a revolutionary government.

Me thinks that many in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), especially among its clique of geopolitical analysts, are foreseeing in the near future, possibly in President Aquino III time (2010 – 2016), an inevitable clash of the global titans – the United States and its allies (i.e. Philippines) against the People’s Republic of China and its allies.

For many of these Filipino civilian and military geopolitical analysts, the current way of how the Philippine government deals with the United States and China, namely strengthening economic ties with China and strengthening military ties with the United States, will come to a standstill once domestic politics and the forthcoming new leadership in Mainland China turns more aggressive and assertive on its international affairs.

The renewed vigor and interest of the United States government in Southeast Asian affairs particularly with its former colony and the way many local American politicians have been ridiculing and bashing China in the past few months have certainly irked and offended many Chinese high officials.  The call for a “show them what we’ve got” and “final showdown” within and without the ruling Communist Party of China are spiking at a time when the world’s biggest military organization, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is expanding its might. Whoever among the two giants would “attack first” is like watching a chess game between two grand masters.

Only time will tell if the Philippines would once again be caught in the middle of the conflict of major powers as it was seventy years ago. Shall this call for a revolutionary government prosper? Shall the youth of the land once more, as it was in the past, be called upon to “Ipagtanggol ang Inang Bayan”?







Jin Zai Fei Lu Bin

I have a good feeling that the phrase my Filipino friends and I often use in promoting the unique beauty and wonders of my home country to my Chinese friends would become the official slogan of the Department of Tourism (DOT).  “仅在菲律宾 Jin Zai Fei Lu Bin” in Chinese Mandarin or “Only in the Philippines” in English, I heard, is now being considered by the Department of Tourism to become its campaign slogan to rival our regional competitors’ “Malaysia, Truly Asia”, “Amazing Thailand, Miracle Thailand”, “Remarkable Indonesia” and “Uniquely Singapore”.

Mr. Willy Arcilla, Founder and President of Business Mentors Inc. and author of “Marketing and Advertising with a Conscience” articulated his proposed tourism slogan “Only in the Philippines” in the November 5 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Mr. Arcilla explained:

“We will never achieve a quantum leap of growth in foreign tourists or dollar receipts without first achieving a quantum leap in our patriotism and love for our countrymen.  We cannot expect to attract foreign visitors to our country if we ourselves continue to leave our country in droves. Before we expect others to fall in love with our country, we must first rekindle our love for her.  This is a must to the success of any human endeavor.  No one can sell what he or she does not love. We need to engender a sense of patriotism among our ourselves, our families and our own countrymen.  Patriotism will motivate us to invest in the “HEARTS” of successful tourism – Hospitality and Hotels + Enjoyable Experiences + Airports and Airplanes + Roads and RORO Bridges + Tour Packages and clean Toilets + Safety and Security.

“Only in the Philippines” is a familiar line often quoted by locals and foreigners alike to capture the unbelievable sense of exasperation and frustration over a country that has been blessed with abundant beauty and a people imbued with nobility, yet shamelessly exploited by dynasties of “trapos” and greedy oligarchs.  Yet perhaps it is also the best line to use to at once drive local and foreign tourism, rekindle patriotism and unify a divided nation.  It can be argued and it cannot be denied there is also so much natural beauty and goodness that can be found “Only in the Philippines. The same line arouses curiosity among new prospects (there are 1 billion tourists globally) most of whom have never been to our shores. “What can be found ‘Only in the Philippines’”?  It reinforces the experience of past visitors who can attest to our uniqueness, while presenting new, varied experiences. It is simple and memorable, specific and unique.

Another good thing I can see in the slogan and in the campaign of “Only in the Philippines” is that it can be easily adapted and be integrated by our various ethno-linguistic regions and provinces. Hence, we can say for example “Only in Ilocos – Only in the Philippines” as it showcases Vigan, in Ilocos Sur, Pagudpud Beach and Fort Ilocandia in Laoag. The Banaue Rice Terraces, Mt. Pulag and La Trinidad Valley beckon with “Only in Benguet – Only in the Philippines.” In promoting the majestic Mayon Volcano, CamSur wakeboarding, pristine Caramoan, Pacific Ocean surfing in Daet’s Bagasbas Beach, we can say “Only in Bicol – Only in the Philippines.” We can say “Only in Panay – Only in the Philippines” as we showcase “Ati-Atihan” and the paradise island of Boracay. We can say “Only in Palawan – Only in the Philippines” as we talk about Tubbataha Reef and the world’s longest Subterranean River, one of the seven new wonders of nature. In addition, in the process of highlighting the great tourists spots in our provinces and regions, we can also spur the growth and development of local entrepreneurship as envisioned in the “One Town-One Product” (OTOP) program of our government. Indeed, tourism breeds employment and entrepreneurship.

While I absolutely agree that mere sloganeering and cheer-leading are not enough to push our tourism industry to its full potential, and there are other myriad issues (i.e. public infra and peace & order) involve in boosting our tourism industry, Mr. Arcilla’s “Only in the Philippines” and SHAPES paradigm coupled by DOT’s sincere efforts and initiatives are commendable steps to improve our tourism industry. While I also agree that we are still far behind our regional competitors’ successful tourism drive and in local parlance “marami pa tayong kakaining bigas”, I still believe that many places in our home country are beautiful, enchanting and worthy to share and promote to our foreign and local friends. I don’t mean to tap myself at the back but it is my confidence in our country that I’ve convinced several Chinese citizens to not just visit and tour the Philippines but to actually retire and enjoy their sunset years in the tropical islands. I know so many Manila-based Filipino naysayers and experts in finger-pointing but whenever I asked them “Ikaw, ilan na ba ang nahikayat mong turista sa Pilipinas?” most of the answer I get is not a direct answer to a simple question. At the end of the day, boosting tourism in the Philippines is everybody’s business. In the words of my fellow ProPinoy writer Ms. Nina Terol-Zialcita “We’ve got to get our acts together–and we’ve got to move as a “tourism country”.


P.S. If you are interested to have a powerpoint copy of Mr. Willy Arcilla’s “Patrio-tourism and Only in the Philippines” just e-mail me at [email protected] Willy send me a copy of the .ppt file and I’d be glad to share it to you as well.

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Baviera and Ong on the Spratlys Issue and Sino-Philippine Relations

In conclusion of PH.CN’s three-part series of re-echoing of what was discussed in the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies’ Forum on the South China Sea, I would like to share to you the presentations made by Prof. Aileen San Pablo-Baviera of the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines and Dato Timothy Ong, a leading Brunei businessman and Chairman of Asia Inc. Forum.

Aquino policy on the South China Sea: Are we ready for tough times ahead? By Prof. A. Baviera

The territorial disputes and maritime jurisdiction issues in the South China Sea will be a continuing bone of contention between the Philippines and its neighbors, especially for China, for many years to come.

Since the 1990s, the Philippines has been pro-active in seeking cooperative, rules-based approaches to managing the disputes relying on both bilateral as well as multilateral diplomacy. Bilaterally­­, the Philippines entered into agreements with China and Vietnam in 1995 and 1997 pledging self-restraint and urging cooperation on non-sensitive areas. Many high-level exchanges were held, including among military officials. Even at the height of tensions over Mischief Reef, bilateral trade and people-to-people ties between Beijing and Manila thrived.

Multilaterally, the Philippines also spearheaded the 1992 Manila Declaration by ASEAN states, the negotiation of an ASEAN-China code of conduct (COC) which resulted in the 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) and even the ill-fated Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) with China and Vietnam which was allowed to lapse after being implicated in alleged corrupt and treasonous activities of the previous regime.

The JMSU fiasco was a logical outcome of the way the Arroyo administration allowed domestic policies and regime interests to dominate the country’s China policy with disastrous consequences for our security and foreign policy. Today, we are still trying to get relations back on track and are farther than ever from agreement on how to manage the disputes.

In the meantime, a new layer of security challenges loom over Southeast Asia, with the maritime disputes at its core. Several regional states have recently worked to delineate territories and boundaries (in our case, the 2009 Baselines Law), increasing tensions with China. Oil exploration activities have been on the rise. China’s increasing assertiveness and growth in military capabilities cause concern. Sino-American rivalry for strategic influence in East Asia is casting a big shadow over attempts to solve the disputes peacefully.

This is the security environment in the South China Sea that the Aquino government now confronts.

The Aquino administration has been confidently articulated its preferred multi-dimensional approach to the disputes. This is expressed in the Philippine proposal to turn the South China Sea into a “Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation”. This approach places ASEAN at the center of any solution, which is appropriate because a non-threatening, neutral and moderate ASEAN is acceptable to China and other stakeholders., It emphasizes rules-based solutions and reliance on international law, a fundamental principle if we are to prevent a situation where military might becomes the final arbiter.

The approach is an inclusivist, cognizant of states with a particular interest in freedom of navigation such as Japan and the United States. However, caution must be exercised to ensure that non-claimants play a role supportive of a peaceful and equitable settlement, rather than one that exacerbates tensions in the regions. The Aquino policy also rightly stresses the needed to build the capability of the Armed Forces and the Coast Guard, so that the country may not only strengthen its defenses but in the future contribute its share to keeping order at sea.

Where the Aquino policy differs from the past is in readiness to confront the issues directly underpinning the conflicts, shifting attention from confidence building activities to trying to clarify the basis of the claims, including calling for a determinations of non-disputed from the disputed areas. Knowing the exact meters and bounds of the contested areas may help better define the possible areas for cooperation or even future joint development of resources.

What appears to be lacking in the emerging policy of the Aquino administration is a strategy of re-engagement with China. During the President’s state visit to China which was arguable touted a success, the two parties “agreed to disagree” on this issue. That said, there is a great need for both sides to assure each other of their commitment to peaceful resolution, which means continuing dialogue and mutual persuasion about even divergent perspectives. The Philippines and China, too should start stepping back from the tough, unfriendly rhetoric as a gesture of goodwill and peaceful intent.

Also lacking is follow-up action on the proposed ASEAN-China Code of Conduct. Frustration and impatience over the difficult drafting process may be understandable; however there is no greater need for such an agreement than now. Given the worrying security environment described earlier, an agreement by the claimant states, recognized and supported by neighbors as well as extra-regional states that focuses on measures to avoid armed conflict and reduce the risk as miscalculation at sea is imperative.


Basis for cautious optimism By Dato T. Ong

In a recent issue, the influential American magazine Foreign Policy asked a number of well-known commentators to make large predictions on the future. Of the nine predictions, most seemed far removed from our lives. One however was directly relevant to the Philippines and the other maritime states of East Asia. The writer, Robert Kaplan, a member of the Defense Policy Board of the United States Defense Department predicted that “the South China Sea is the future of conflict”.

Because of its geography as the main trade access to the booming economies of East Asia, its history of multiple and complex territorial claims, its geology of immense wealth in hydrocarbon resources, the South China Sea is increasingly the main area arena of conflict and competition between a rising China on one hand and the United States of America and other maritime states of the region on the other.

When I accepted former Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Roberto Romulo’s invitation to take part in the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation’s Forum on the South China Sea, I expected to have this outlook confirmed.

Certainly, there was little basis for optimism. China’s “nine dotted lines” claim although vaguely defined was ambitious in its reach. Joined together the dotted lines cover almost the entire South China Sea. Even something as innocuous as strengthening the “Declaration on Conduct: between China and ASEAN to manage conflicting claims in the South China Sea had been almost impossible to agree upon with China showing no interest in anything binding.

At the conclusion of the forum, I was struck by two clear but disconnected themes that sits uneasily with each other. On the one hand, there was broad agreement that the issues underlying the conflicting claims are complex and intractable and inextricably linked to national and strategic interests. On the other hand, there was broad agreement that the conflicting claims must be managed peacefully without disrupting Asia Pacific regionalism and economic integration.

These two themes are supported by development within the Asia Pacific. The rise in tensions arising from conflicting claims, the build up in arms and increasing nationalist posturing has gone hand in hand with rapidly growing economic links between China, the Philippines and the other maritime states of South China Sea. Almost bewildering to the western eye, the parties to the conflicting claims have continued to embrace each other while squabbling. In short, nothing so far has come in the way of doing business.

What explains growing tensions on the one hand and business as usual on the other? The cynic in the Philippines and elsewhere in ASEAN will be tempted to see this as appeasement or at any rate accommodation of China’s growing might. As a Vietnamese delegate at the Forum observed, China’s invitation for to put aside sovereignty issues and focus on joint development is a little like “What is mine is mine; what is yours is mine and we are willing to share”.

My take is less cynical. My view is that ASEAN’s willingness to separate the difficult issues of sovereignty from the practical ones of resource management; to emphasize common interests and deemphasize differences; to focus on managing conflict rather than securing complete solution reflects a necessary pragmatism.

It was this pragmatism that led to the Thai-Malaysian Development Area, a mutually beneficial framework for managing their conflicting claims in the Gulf of Thailand and to the successful management of a number of territorial disputes within the region. As a distinguished participant and one of ASEAN’s leading expert on the Law of the Sea urged: Start with the less sensitive issues and focus on the common ground”.

The ASEAN pragmatism reminds me of the distinction the scholar James P. Carse made between two types of “games”, finite and infinite. Finite games are played with the goal of winning. Infinite games on the other hand, do not have a knowable beginning or ending. They are played with the goal of continuing play.

Listening to the diverse views from the participants across the Asia Pacific at the forum, observing the inflexibility of final positions and pragmatism of the next steps, I concluded that the continuing skirmishes around the conflicting claims of the South China Sea, diplomatic, military, and otherwise should be viewed and assessed as an infinite game. The aim is not to win; the aim is to keep playing.

With this thought at the conclusion of the forum, I began to feel that there is some basis for cautious optimism on the South China Sea.





Wisner and Chen on Spratlys and South China Sea

In this second of a three-part series of PH.CN’s re-echoing of what was discussed in the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies’ Forum on the South China Sea, I would like to share to you the presentations made by former Ambassador Frank Wisner and former Ambassador Chen Shi Qiu.

The United States and the South China Sea by F. Wisner

I come to you as an American with a keen interest in this region.  I spent  many of my early years as a diplomat in my country’s fateful engagement  in Viet Nam and I had the honor of representing  the United States in Manila as Ambassador. But I do not speak to you today as a representative of the United States government.  I speak for myself.  In my remarks, I will attempt to reflect my government’s point of view as I understand it.

It seems hardly necessary to  explain the interests of the United States in Asia, including in South East Asia and in the South China Sea.  The United States is a Pacific power; our destiny is linked to this region. America’s security and economic well being depend heavily on Asia and this fact will grow in importance in the years ahead.  During my lifetime, my country has fought three wars in Asia.  Today we are intimately involved in two of Asia’s important questions  – the  future and security of the  Korean Peninsula and the question of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.

We also have interests in the South China Sea.  I  need not  remind you  of the importance of the South China Sea. A full half of the world’s merchant fleets pass through your area each year; in the transport of oil alone, the South China Sea carries six times the freight of the Suez Canal.  80% of China’s oil is shipped through the sea lanes of the South China Sea and similarly large percentage of the energy supplies required in  Japan,  Korea, China and Taiwan make a similar  voyage; the amount of traffic through your area will double by 2030.

The South China Sea is also an area of great complexity, containing as it does thousands of miles of oceans and 231 islands and reefs.  Claimants to the area are many and in recent years each has shown itself more determined than ever to assert  its rights.  Many are increasing their military capabilities.   In the view of the United States, these claims, however they are justified, do not diminish  from  the fact  that the South China Sea is  a part the global commons. Put differently, the right of free passage and freedom of navigation  and the orderly and  consensual exploitation of the resources of the South China Sea  are matters of huge importance to all nations.

In addition to history and economics, the United States has long standing defense and security ties to nations in this area.  At our initiative, SEATO, was born.  We enjoy treaty ties with the Philippines and Thailand and we are involved in military assistance and military exercises with the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore. We are beginning to include Vietnam and Cambodia in these efforts.

Our security responsibilities  in this region  have become part of our domestic political  dialogue as well as  enjoying a place in our  official policies. The Congress has addressed the subject of the South China Sea.  In our present campaign for the Presidency, Governor Romney expressed his views on the subject in a speech he gave week before last in support of his candidacy.   As I read his remarks, he pledged the constancy of  the American presence in this region and he  committed his presidency, if he achieves it, to maintaining naval forces adequate to defending our interests.

The Administration, the Governor and the overwhelming majority of Americans, who think about our international obligations, believe that our relationship with the People’s Republic of China is among the most important questions we face as a nation.  Americans seek strong and positive ties with China in all fields, including over the question of the South China Sea.   Indeed I reflect the views of many, many of my fellow countrymen.  We welcome China’s emergence on the world stage, as a great, indeed growing power and one with which the United States looks forward to pursing a respectful, productive and peaceful relationship.

Given our stake in Asia’s security and economy and our ties to the nations of the continent, it follows that the United States pays close attention to developments in  the South China Sea.  We have watched with growing concern the increasing  tensions  in your neighborhood  — from the first outbreak of hostilities in 1974, when China and Viet Nam clashed over the Paracel Islands.  We were similarly concerned by the 1998 incident in the Johnson South Reef.    The United States took note of China’s National People’s Congress assertion of sovereignty in the area in 1992; we have also paid close attention to China’s much debated 9-line.  In 1995 we made it clear that with regard to the Spratley Islands, “the freedom of passage was a fundamental US interest”.  We have been similarly troubled by construction activities on Mischief Reef and the flare ups over oil and gas exploration in 2007 and afterwards.

Throughout this period, the United States has sought to make it clear that unilateral actions which result in rising tensions in the region are a matter of concern and importance to us.  As troubled as we have reason to be, the United States has also been impressed by this region’s ability to act politically to address its differences and preserve the peace.  South East Asia, often with the participation of the People’s Republic of China, has shown an ability to come together in the region’s interests.  Your 1976 Treaty of Amity and  Cooperation and your 1995 declaration on the freedom of this area  from  nuclear weapons are outstanding examples. The same is true of the 1992 ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea.  Any responsible observer should take heart from the ASEAN-China declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea; that document remains a seminal statement of the intentions of all states in the area and a point of reference for the future.  Its assertion that parties will seek a peaceful resolution to their differences and cooperate in developing the resources of the area are significant principles which point the way to future management of disagreements.

Similarly  the ASEAN and Chinese agreement which was reached  on July 21 of this year constitutes welcome if limited steps forward.  Its eight guidelines treat important non-traditional security issues; at the same time, the agreement  falls short of defining a path to the  management  of increasingly  volatile territorial issues.  Nor do the guidelines address the nettlesome question of naval incidents.

In a word,  all of us must be  concerned that the  states bordering on the South China Sea have not yet agreed on guidelines for the implementationof a Code of Conduct, a fact that leaves room for misunderstandings and the possibility of increased tensions.  The United States supports such Code of Conduct.

Diplomacy is essential but diplomacy to be effective must be  flexible and inclusive. There is a role for multilateral as well as bilateral processes and fora in addressing differences and conflicting claims.  No party has the right to say it will exclude from the dialogue any other party with significant interests.  Similarly, international tribunals, like the International Court of Justice, may be able to play a role in the future and the UN Convention on the Law of Seas certainly provides a framework.

But let me emphasize that events of the past several years are  troubling.  The  absence of progress toward a Code of Conduct is a particular reason for concern.   Rising tensions and an increase in incidents is another source for concern.  There are many  causes  for  increased friction; they certainly include the assertion of territorial claims by nations in the area and by  the exploration for hydrocarbons.

The United States has particular sympathy for the  concerns of Viet Nam which has been the object of the greatest number of incidents.  We are similarly  sensitive to the needs of our friends in the Philippines.   And to repeat myself for emphasis  it is a matter of regret that the region’s diplomacy has not moved vigorously and achieved a Code of Conduct.  Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario of the Philippines recently noted that this area needs to set a “collective goal for rule based actions by all parties concerned”.  He spoke wisely and well.

I am sure Secretary del Rosario’s appeal is directed to all parties.  I would add an extra word to my friends from the People’s Republic of China.  The United States does not take a position on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.  That said, no American can dismiss China’s interests in the area.  But China is a great nation which enjoys special advantages in an orderly world – one in which peace and freedom of commerce prevail.  To larger states, extra responsibilities fall since they benefit disproportionately from a cooperative environment.   It is with this point in mind that I welcome recent efforts of the Chinese government, including in recent days with Viet Nam, to send a signal of cooperation to its Asian neighbors.

The visit of China’s Prime Minister to the region and the actions and statements of China’s Foreign Minister point to China seeking diplomatic engagement and cooperative solutions to the issues of the South China Sea.  There must be no gap  however  between  the  statements and the actions  of any party, China included.

The United States’ attitude on the South China Sea deserves an additional word of elaboration.   The United States position was articulated by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton in Hanoi at the 2010 ASEAN  Regional Forum.  There she declared the United States, like every nation, has a national interest in the freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and a respect for international law in the South China Sea.    While she refused to take sides in any territorial claim, she stated American opposition to the use of or the threat of the use of force in resolving differences and called for a peaceful resolution of differences. She went on to state that the United States shares “these interests not only with ASEAN members, ASEAN Regional Forum participants but with  other maritime nations and the broader international community”.  In other words, the Secretary reminded us the US national interest is  broadly and internationally shared.

Secretary Clinton’s statement was amplified at the 2010 Shangri-la Conference in Singapore where Secretary of Defense Gates referred to the South China Sea as “an area of growing concern to America”.  A year later, at the same conference, Secretary Gates further noted “without rules there will be clashes”.  In addition to these statements of principle, the United States has also noted that “claims in the South China Sea should be derived from legitimate claims from land features”.

To repeat my opening contention, the United States has long standing interests in the South China Sea and in the resolution of differences between the littoral states.  It does not seek advantage for itself nor does it threaten any other nation.  It welcomes the possibility of coordinating its positions and actions and discussing its interests with all parties, including with the People’s Republic of China, which shares responsibility with other neighboring countries for stability in the area.

The United States looks to the nations of this area to find diplomatic solutions to differences.  It is willing to do its part when that is appropriate and I believe it is when I reflect on the need to develop rules to manage incidents at sea.  In addition, the US is committed to maintaining a robust military presence in Asia and will support its  allies.  It  will maintain capabilities sufficient to deter conflict.  As Secretary Gates made clear in his waning days in office, the United States can be counted on in the near future to conduct naval port calls, training and exercises and help its friends address regional challenges.  We have already begun to act on these commitments, conducting exercises with Malaysia and the Philippines and responding to President Aquino’s plans to rebuild the military capability of the Philippines.

In November, President Obama will participate in the East Asia Summit, the first American president to do so.  He will also take part in the USASEAN Summit and will host APEC in Honolulu.  The President’s presence in each of these fora point to the resolve of the United States in protecting its interests and standing by its friends, pursuing at the same time, peaceful solutions and cooperation.

Of course, there are differences between nations over the South China Sea but these differences need not become disputes nor worse yet, causes for conflict even if we admit, as we should, that the likelihood of agreement on issues of sovereignty will not occur any time soon.    Isn’t the time right to shelve disputes and develop the region jointly.   The time is certainly right for tempers to cool and diplomatic engagement to take over.  A Code of Conduct is needed and it must be a full one.    The interests of all will be served by it.  And it must be based on principles all of us accept – freedom of navigation,   peaceful resolution of differences, the sharing of resources and the avoidance of the use of force or the threat of its use.


China and the South China Sea by Chen S.Q.

I would like to share  with you some of  my own perspectives in my personal capacity.

First, The core of the South China Sea Issue. Sovereignty disputes over the Nansha Islands is the core part of the South China  Sea Issue. Other matters, such as disputes over maritime areas and resources, all directly depend upon how to properly handle the sovereignty disputes over the Islands. To put it bluntly, the fundamental issue is who has sovereignty over the Nansha Islands. Maybe it is necessary now for us to take a look at the evolving process concerning the sovereignty disputes over the Nansha Islands.

For  a very long period of time of more than a thousand years before 1970s, there had been no such a problem as the so-called Sovereignty disputes over the Nansha Islands. There had not been any doubt about the fact that the Nansha Islands, along with Xisha Islands, Dongsha Islands, Zhongsha Islands belong to China.  No country surrounding the South China Sea had challenged China’s exercise of sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. Only beginning from the 1970s, when oil and gas reserves were discovered in the South China Sea, some countries began to occupy part of the islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands and laid claim to sovereignty over them, thus turned the China-owned Nansha Islands into disputes.

Second, Viewing the Issue from International law. A  Disputes in the South China Sea should be  analysed in accordance with  universally accepted principles of international law. Since the core part of the South China Sea  Issue is the Sovereignty disputes over the Nansha Islands. We have to study the issue with applicable international law as  well as the historical facts of the situation in question.  Among all international law principles, the most pertinent one is the intertemporal law principle. There are many exemplary cases in the world such as the Palmas Island case, the Clippton Island case, the East Greenland Island case and the Minquis and Ecrohos Islands case, to mention just a few.

Historically. Discovery is the oldest way to claim land territory, Classical international law developed doctrines by which States could make a valid claim of sovereignty over territory. The doctrines included discovery. Discovery can produce complete sovereignty. New territories and islands were subject to claim of sovereignty by discovery. A host of historical facts have proved that before  16th-17th century, it was China who first discovered, occupied and developed the Nansha Islands; the Nansha Islands have become an inalienable part of Chinese territory since then.

Occupation and Effectivity. Occupation applies to territory that is terra nullius, that is, territory which is not under the sovereignty of any State  by that time  and is subject to acquisition by any State.  Occupation requires proof of two elements: (1) the intention or will to act as the sovereign;  and (2) the continuous and peaceful display of sovereignty. In the case of islands in the South China Sea,  activities of China, though modest in number but diverse in character, covering a considerable period of time and revealing an intention to exercising State functions, show its effectivity.

After discovering the islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese Government marked the Nansha Islands on the authoritative maps and exercised administrative jurisdiction over these islands. Chinese people started to develop the Nansha Islands and engage in fishing on the islands. Up till the beginning of 20th century, the Chinese Government had exercised peaceful jurisdiction over the Nansha Islands without any disputes.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Nansha Islands were incorporated into Guangdong Province and Hainan Province successively and the Chinese Government has all along maintained China’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and taken effective actions for that. All in all, according to international law, China was the first to discover, name, occupy and develop the Nansha Islands and exercise sovereignty over them

Estoppel. “Estoppel” is a generally accepted principle of international law in international relations. This principle has particular relevance to territorial sovereignty issues. In accordance with this principle the recent claimants should be still subject to their original recognition or Default.

Prescription. Prescription applies to territory that was claimed by another State.  It is described as the acquisition of territory through a continuous and undisturbed exercise of sovereignty during such a period as to usurp another State’s sovereignty by its implied consent or acquiescence. As for the Nansha Islands issue, the Chinese Government has indisputable sovereignty over it since ancient times. And the Chinese  Government has all along maintained China’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and taken effective actions for that. The very recent time claimants can’t resort to the doctrine of “occupation” or “prescription” to gain sovereignty over them.

Geographic Contiguity. Some countries argue that small islands and other features of Nansha Islands are close to their main territory, within their EEZ or on their continental shelf, should belong to them. Under customary international law, contiguity is not an independent basis for the acquisition of territory. There are many historical cases which denied similar claims.

UNCLOS. Some countries have claimed sovereignty of Nansha Islands on the ground that these islands are within their continental shelves or exclusive economic zones. According to international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, it is a basic principle that land dominates the sea. Maritime rights and interests should be based on territorial sovereignty. No country should be allowed to extend its maritime jurisdiction to the territories of other countries, still less should it be allowed to invade and occupy other’s territory on the ground of exclusive economic zones or the continental shelves. The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)  has no provisions on sovereignty, nor does it regulate sovereignty over islands of their original status. UNCLOS only prescribes the regime of maritime zones. UNCLOS assumes that it has been determined which State has sovereignty over a continental land mass or an off-shore island. It then sets out what maritime zones can be claimed by States. All in all, UNCLOS can in no way serve as a basis for a country’s territorial claim, nor can it change China’s indisputable legal status as having sovereignty over the Nansha Islands.

The scenarios for the solution of the South China Sea Issue in the foreseeable future resolution of the sovereignty claims and agreement on maritime boundaries in the South China Sea seem unlikely in the foreseeable future.

One scenario is resolution by threat or use  of force. Disputes used to be solved by force, but times have changed. Now, disputes should be dealt with by peaceful means. Threat or use of force is contrary to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and in violation of the basic norms of international relations. Threat or use of force in the South China Sea only cause more conflicts. No country, whether the countries surrounding the South China Sea, or countries outside the area, can benefit from this kind of scenario.

One scenario is “let it to be”.  The countries concerned engage in “war of words” or unilateral  actions on the basis of their own unilateral claims. In this scenario, the risk of conflicts or armed clashes is very high because unilateral actions by one country and counter-actions by another country may escalate or complicate the disputes, could only aggravate tension in the South China Sea which will benefit no one.

One scenario is resolution through direct dialogue and consultation by peaceful means. The countries directly concerned properly handle differences and sensitive issues based on the principle of equality and mutual  respect; make great efforts to resolve disputes through bilateral consultations and negotiations. The countries directly concerned need to show political sincerity and flexibility in order to find a final solution acceptable to both sides. The situation in the South China Sea will be peaceful and stable. Good-neighborly relationship of cooperation can be developed among the countries surrounding the South China Sea. It is a win-win way. Though it may take some time, it is worth doing.

One scenario is “put aside dispute for joint development”. Pending the final settlement, all countries concerned should exercise self-restraint and refrain from taking any action that may escalate or complicate the disputes. The countries concerned make great effort to enter into provisional or transitional arrangements, including “shelving disputes and carrying out joint development” in disputed areas. Joint development will not only bring benefits to all parties concerned, but also create favorable environment and atmosphere for settling disputes in a long run. It should be the most practical, feasible and win-win way for the countries concerned under the present circumstances.

Fourth, the way forward on the SCS Issue. The countries surrounding the South China Sea have a common interest in ensuring peace and stability in the SCS. To this end, they must handle their differences in an appropriate way. All the parties concerned should adopt a restrained, calm, responsible, constructive attitude toward the issue. Refrain from further actions that may undermine peace, stability, trust and confidence in the region. Handle differences and relevant disputes with the countries concerned through direct consultation or diplomatic channels and by peaceful means. Solve the disputes properly through bilateral negotiation and consultation in accordance with universally recognized international laws including modern maritime laws and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea , fully respect legal principles, take history and other relevant circumstances into consideration and accommodate each other’s concerns in a fair and constructive manner.

Pending the final solution of the disputes, the countries concerned shelve the disputes for the time being and go in for joint development in the disputed areas. Abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea(DOC) and actively  explore or undertake cooperative activities in such areas as marine environmental protection, marine scientific research, safety of navigation and communication at sea, search and rescue operation and combating transnational crimes. To maintain the safety, unimpededness and freedom of navigation of foreign vessels and aircraft enjoyed in accordance with international law.

No involvement by any external forces in the South China Sea disputes. “Internationalizing” the South China Sea Issue is undesirable, as that will only further complicate the situation. Make joint efforts to transform the South China Sea into an area  of peace, stability, cooperation and development.

Romulo and Siazon on Spratlys Issue and Sino-Philippine Relations

In this week’s edition and on the succeeding issues of PH.CN, I’d be running in full the text of the presentations delivered by guest speakers of the recently concluded International Forum on the West Philippine Sea which I have attended in Manila. Below in respective order are the presentations delivered by Former DFA Secretary Roberto Romulo and Former DFA Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr.


Just recently, a commentary published in the Global Times – a newspaper under the  Communist Party’s People’s Daily – said the South China Sea was the “ideal battlefield”  for China to wage small-scale wars with rival claimants to territory in the area. The article, titled “The Time to Teach Those Around the South China Sea A Lesson”, was written by Long Tao, a strategic analyst with the China Energy Fund Committee, a non-government think tank. “We shouldn’t waste the opportunity to launch some tiny scale battles that could deter provocateurs from going further, he said. He added that  punishing the  “troublemakers”  – the  Philippines and Vietnam – should teach other Southeast Asian countries to  behave. I hasten to add that no  Chinese  officials  commented on this article so it cannot be taken as an official position. But that is not  my point as you will soon see.

Running side by side with that commentary was an article by Sun Peisong, a director of the government-backed Lianyungang Development Research Institute in Jiangsu  province. Sung criticized Long’s view, saying any critical moves made by China in the South China Sea disputes would be  used as an excuse  by the US to  take action  to contain China’s rising global influence.

Both articles were soon circulated by internet users. Almost 2,000 messages – and counting – supporting Long’s view were reported. On the other hand, more than 1,000 internet users branded Sun a “traitor” in a more unrestrained manner.

This kind of debate and the intense emotion it generates is not unique to China. In Vietnam, monks have self-immolated and demonstrators have waved the PROC’s flag painted over with a skull and cross-bone while shouting “Down with China”.

Here in my own country, some national and local politicians have called China a bully and urged the government to fight back and demonstrate its sovereignty. They have called for the beefing up the government’s presence in the territory and the granting oil exploration concessions in what is now called the West Philippine Sea.

Strategic and economic interests propel each claimant’s position. That we all know.  But there are other dynamics at play out there as well that influence actions and reactions by claimants which may not be as easy to rationalize and channel into peaceful discourse. Like the proverbial “genie in the bottle”, nationalism is a factor that once let out, may not be so easy to put back in.

It is what is driving the heated rhetoric and the general public’s interest in some far off specks of land in a vast sea which they will  probably  never set their eyes on in their lifetime.  And that is what may tilt governments – towards actions that are  expedient domestically but which may not be  rational and acceptable as a responsible member of the world community.

So despite declarations of peaceful resolution, we cannot afford to keep the eye off the ball because of these dynamics.  I myself can associate with Mr. Sun. One of my businessman friends to whom I broached the idea of a Track II dialogue, dismissed the idea as fruitless and branded me a Neville Chamberlain for advocating what he calls a policy of appeasement.

But  I am happy to say that I am not alone and woe to those who question their patriotism. There are as many voices of reason and circumspection out there as there are of jingoism and violence – within the general public and within officialdom. As you can see from our sponsors and the attendance here today, the business community is keenly aware of the significance of stability in the South China Sea.  They realize its relevance not just to the economies in the region but those  beyond as well. Conflict in the area will not benefit anyone but the  harm will be widespread.  World commerce will be severely impaired surely.  They appreciate the value of dialogue and  welcome  the declaration of all claimants for peaceful resolution.

So it is important that there be dialogues – official and non-official – to better inform the public to give  governments breathing space from  pressure from their domestic constituents,  to avoid misunderstanding and miscalculations and provide avenues to cooperation and peaceful resolution.

Official dialogues however need time to mature into effective mechanisms for resolving disputes. Non-official dialogues such as we are having help surface underlying reasons for each country’s position and generate ideas for moving forward.  Over time they may evolve into feasible options for policy makers to consider in formal talks. Governments are in a happy position to adopt recommendations or views they like, while rejecting others.

An appreciation of each party’s strategic and economic interests is a key element to any resolution. These interests may not all be in congruence with each other but where they do, provides pathways for win-win solutions. Our hope as organizers of this Forum is for such discussions to take place to generate understanding and for ideas for moving forward to germinate. I would thus encourage speakers and participants to be frank but constructive at the same time.


It is said that when the seal of the United Nations was being determined, Carlos P. Romulo asked: “Where is the Philippines?” Senator Warren Austin, head of the Selection Committee, explained, “it is  too small to include. If we put the Philippines, it would be no more than a dot,” “I want that dot,” insisted Romulo.

Today a tiny dot between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea can be found on the UN seal. The general must now be smiling watching the CPR’s Foundation’s forum on the disputes related to the many mini dots and non-dots of the South China Sea.

In recent times, there has been a proliferation of meetings on the SCS disputes. The reason for this is clear. Countries in the region, both claimants and non-claimants are seriously concerned that the occasional incidents in the SCS which have increased in frequency could lead to military conflict in the region. They all yearn for an early settlement of the disputes.

It is also a sign that China will need to manage better its rise as an economic and military power in the world. China might wish to consider using more soft power and smart power.

Today we have the good fortune of having with us many renowned experts on the Law of the Sea and on regional cooperation in maritime areas. We hope to learn much from them. I would like to take this opportunity to pay special tribute to Ambassador Hasjim Djalal of Indonesia for his life time work on the Law of the Sea and for his efforts in convening the Workshop Process on Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea since 1989.

Many important ideas and proposals have emerged from these Workshops. It would be useful for the claimant countries to study these for possible implementation in the SCS region.I am neither a lawyer nor an expert on the Law of the Sea (LOS), but I understand from the legal experts that with the entry into force of the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1994 and with the submissions to the United Nations by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei in 2009, the SCS disputes are now better understood.

I am also informed that all the Claimants are Parties to UNCLOS. They therefore have to comply with the provisions on the Law of the Sea without exception and this development would facilitate the negotiation process.

I am advised of the evolving consensus among the experts that UNCLOS has clarified the following:

1. Territorial claims can be made only to land features and any territorial waters that they may generate, under the principle of land begets water rather than the other way around;

2. Distinction between islands, which can generate exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and continental shelf (CS), and rocks, which cannot;

3. Definition with some precision, of territorial sea, EEZ, and CS; and

4. Rights of other Parties to UNCLOS

There also seems to be a preponderance of views among the experts that a clarification by China of the 9 dash line on Chinese maps would greatly help to facilitate the negotiations defining areas for joint development. I believe it was China which first proposed in the 1980s shelving the sovereignty question and starting with joint development. The settlement of sovereignty and jurisdictional questions will take some time, perhaps too much time for most if not all the claimants.

In May 1995, I succeeded Roberto Romulo as Secretary of Foreign Affairs of President Fidel Valdez Ramos. A major challenge I had was the management of relations with China which occupied Mischief Reef early in 1995.

The occupation of Mischief Reef and its subsequent fortification has been like a fishbone in the Filipino’s throat. But at the same time, China has been a major economic partner not only in the bilateral sense but also in the context of ASEAN, the ASEAN Community and the establishment of an East Asian Community in the future.

Geographically, China is the largest neighbor of the Philippines. Geography is immutable and relations with China have to be managed very well. Political relations between China and the Philippines during 1995-2001 went up and down like a roller coaster because of the SCS dispute. Despite the successful exchanges of many successful State Visits, relations with China were always sensitive at the political level. Economic ties however, continued tostrengthen.

In 1999 during the term of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, relations with China worsened as the number of Chinese fishing vessels intruding into Philippine areas increased significantly. Moreover, there were instances when Chinese fishing vessels would aim their weapons at the Philippine Coast Guard. There were also situations where the Philippine Coast Guard fired warning shots at the Chinese vessels.

The worst incidents happened in May 1999 with the accidental sinking in the Scarborough area of two Chinese fishing vessels by a Philippine Coast Guard ship.  It was a time when China was bristling with anti-US demonstrations in several places because the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was accidentally bombed on 7 May 1995 by US planes resulting in casualties among Embassy staff and the destruction of the Embassy.

Fortunately, at that time, China accepted Philippines’ explanations and apologies.  China also demanded for compensation.  The DFA however refused compensation from the Philippines government as the Chinese vessels were fishing in Philippine area.  With the help of a Filipino-Chinese association, the amount of US$120,000 as compensation for the two ships was settled.

I have related the story about the Scarborough incident to underline that diplomacy has a very important role in managing disputes with other countries.  At the same time, I wish to signal that continuing disputes on the SCS could lead to potential conflict in the region.

There are more serious incidents between China and the USA in the SCS.  For example, the EP3 plane incident on April 1, 2001 and the USNS Impeccable incidents from 5 to 8 March 2009. Many worry about an accidental war between China and the USA.  They have good reasons for worrying.  But the greater risk may be a military conflict between China and Japan which have very serious disputes in the East China Sea.  Moreover, the accident control mechanisms between Japan and China probably need to be improved substantially after the September 2010 incident involving a Chinese fishing vessel intentionally colliding with a Japanese Coast Guard ship.

There is also an urgent need to establish emergency mechanisms between China and India for activities in the maritime areas. There are clear signs that the bigger economies in the Asian region need to improve the management of their relations with each other. It seems paradoxical that the Philippines, ASEAN and China have succeeded for the last ten years to establish closer economic relations and but remain unable to resolve their SCS disputes.

Today, China is the Philippines largest trading partner. China remains as ASEAN’s largest trading partner accounting for 11.3% of ASEAN’s total trade. In 2010 ASEAN was China’s fourth largest trading partner. And in the first half of 2011, ASEAN moved up to become China’s third trading partner. ASEAN and China are also developing an East Asian Free Trade Zone that would include Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand and the ROK. China is also an active and important member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

It is interesting to note that China’s largest trading partner is the USA and Japan’s largest trading partner is China. China is also the largest trading partners of Australia, India and the ROK. China is the core trade and the hub of the industrial production network in East Asia.China-Philippines relations and China-ASEAN relations are too important to be frozen because of disputes on the SCS. We should all try to manage the disputes and go full speed ahead with our economic and political cooperation.

Early this year, the Asian Development bank (ADB) published a report titled: ASIA 2050 Realizing the Asian Century. The ADB report estimated that by 2050, about US$148 trillion or 51 percent of the World’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be from Asia and that China would be the biggest economy with a GDP of some US$63 trillion followed by India and the USA with around US$40 trillion each. There are of course many caveats to this scenario like regional integration, good governance and continuing re-structuring but perhaps the most significant is the avoidance of a major conflict between the big economies.

The realization of the Asian Century should be the objective of every Asian. In his book on China, Henry Kissinger compared the rise of China to the unification of the German Nation in 1871. He asked the question: “Will History Repeat itself?” He noted the complexity of managing the relations between China and the USA but warned that failure to do so could lead to a repetition of what happened to the German nation whose unification was based on nationalism. Joseph Nye in his book the Future of Power wrote: “The danger I see is that the Chinese—thinking America is in decline – push too hard, and that the Americans – fearing the rise of China – overreact.”

I tend to be more optimistic as the Asians particularly the Chinese have studied history well. The pattern of ASEAN development was based mainly on the European experience but molded in the ASEAN way. I believe that China and the Major Powers must continue to follow a Chinese saying by Chen Yun, the late communist leader: “Crossing the river by feeling for the stones.” If they do, we shall all be able to cross the river safely and realize the Asian Century.


Forum on the West Philippine Sea / Back in Manila

I will be in Manila Polo Club tomorrow to attend an international forum on the West Philippine Sea sponsored by the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation and the Singapore-based  Institute of South East Asian Studies. There will be 23 notable former officials and authorities from academe speaking from ASEAN countries, China, Australia, India , North America, and  Europe.

Tensions between claimants to the potentially oil-rich waters and land features of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), where also a quarter of the world’s shipping passes, has risen to potentially dangerous levels with incidents involving China, the Philippines and Vietnam in recent months. All claimants agree that the disputes should be resolved through peaceful means, including dialogue, although progress has been slow.

The international forum intends to provide an avenue for Track II discussions, in which non-officials (scholars, retired civil and military officials, public figures, and civil society) can engage in dialogue, discussing ideas and solutions that might not be possible in formal negotiations presently, but that could, over time, influence official thinking and, ultimately, policy. The international forum will help more clearly define the South China Sea issue in its totality, with all concerned participating and with the goal of identifying common interests. The hope is that this will help governments in conducting their official dialogues with one another.

On October 16, there will be a closed-door session labeled “Informal Session: Scene Setting”. “Chatham House Rules” will apply: participants are free to use the information received but neither the identity nor affiliation of the speaker, nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.  The chairman of this session will be former Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro.

The forum chairman on October 17 will be former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Domingo L. Siazon, Jr.  Opening speakers will be  Chen Shiqui,  Frank Wisner,  and a third speaker who has been invited but not yet confirmed.   Chen is Professor at China Foreign Affairs University and at Xi’an Jiaotong University.  He was a former Director-General of Treaties and Law at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a former Ambassador to  Indonesia and to the  United Nations  and other International Organizations in Vienna. Wisner is currently international affairs advisor of Patton Boggs LLP, a former American ambassador to the Philippines, India and Egypt, and a former undersecretary of defense and undersecretary of state.  In the private sector he was previously a vice-chairman of AIG.

During the October 17 Forum (by invitation only) , there will be three sessions.  Session One will be “Issues”  chaired by former ASEAN Secretary General Rodolfo Severino and currently Head of the ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS.  Session Two will be “Claims and Interests” chaired by former Philippine Ambassador to China Romualdo Ong.  Session Three will be “Towards Peace and Prosperity in the South China Sea: Pathways for Regional Cooperation”. The session chair will be Dato Timothy Ong of Brunei Darussalam, who is Chairman of Asia Inc. Forum and former Acting Chair of the Brunei Economic Development Board.


I often visit the Philippines since I moved to China to be with my beloved better half who is a Mainlander. And whenever I am here on my hometown, I cannot help but notice and be appalled with the great inequality in Philippine society. My better half who have learned to love my country have confided to me her observation.

My better half felt depressed to see the face of poverty and huge gap between the haves and the have-nots in the capital city. Street children and elders knocking on car windows begging for “limos”, food, and money while articulate and English-speaking Filipino youngsters are partying hard in Eastwood; commuters in Ortigas doing a “sabit” in colorful jeepneys while some folks are comfortably sitting inside their air-conditioned SUVs; and people living in flashy bungalows and mansions in Forbes Park and the folks living in “barong-barongs” along PNR tracks and Pasig River. For her, the wide gap between the haves and the have-nots is so evident and poverty is rife in a country blessed with natural resources and talented people. I absolutely concur with her.

It is a sad sight to see and an embarrassing one at that. Nasaan na ang galing at pakikipagkapwa-tao ng mga Pilipino? Hanggang yabang sa salita at dunong at porma lang ba talaga tayo? Whatever happened to our ability to build communities, in nation-building? Shall we wait before the have-nots in our society rise-up and step-up in (violent) ways we have not yet seen? We all have seen the anarchy in the so-called EDSA 3 and we have all seen what an angry and frustrated mob can do. In modern history, we have also learned how tyrants and dictators can easily manipulate such kind of populace.

I’ve been to major cities and have been deep to the rural communities in my better half’s country, but to tell you honestly, I’ve never seen a poor poorer than my countrymen. Yes, there are poor people in China but I’ve never seen bare-footed and malnourished homeless kids and hapless elderly folks. Yes, there are poor families there but they can somehow manage to have a very humble home and eke out a decent living. There is hope, there is striving, there’s the will to go on with life. Such a sharp contrast with the families I have visited and helped in Baseco, Tondo and in provinces in Luzon.

As I become older,  acquaintances, friends, and relatives who welcome back me home are not anymore concerned about “pasalubong” and chocolates. They want to know if I know someone, somewhere who can give them jobs and make use of their education, talent, and sheer physical strength. “Kahit anong trabaho basta marangal at disente at may kaunting kita”.  I know how it feels. I’ve been there before.

Bottom line is my people needs education, peace and order, and most importantly jobs that will give them dignity and a chance, an opportunity to prove to themselves and to their families that they are not just good-for-nothing “tambays” and soldiers of fortune.

Robert H. Frank in his book, Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class, wrote “When societies become more and more unequal, they become less healthy, less happy, less productive, less capable of producing innovation, more volatile, more prone to crime, and so on.” Does this observation rings true in our country? I bet you’ll agree.

My central African and central Asian friends would tell me that the situation in their respective countries are more alarming and depressing than that of the Philippines.Well, it’s a good consolation but I would never, never be satisfied with the current state of affairs in the Philippines. There’s so much that this country can reach and achieve if we only look above and beyond our current challenges and problems. Only fools would say that there’s no joy and no hope in these God blessed beautiful 7,000 tropical islands! Only cowards can turn its back from our great countrymen who have sacrificed their very lives for our one and only country!

Call it obsession, but I am obsessed with the same obsession that had engulfed legendary Asian leaders like Mutsuhito Meiji, Deng Xioping, Lee Kwan Yew, Mahathir Muhammad, Chiang Ching Kuo, and Park Chung-hee into seeing their respective nations move from backward and weak countries into strong and progressive nation-states.

I may not even be elected as a “barangay kagawad” but as for me, I’ve made up my mind, I would continue on with my humble yet consistent contribution in nation-building, I would continue on believing and working until the day of this nation’s redemption. My faith rests in the capacity of the Filipinos to build a great, prosperous, and progressive nation. A blessed nation that my children can proudly call their own.

Image credit: AFP

Confucianism and its relevance to Filipino thoughts

Confucius Day was recently commemorated by people and institutions extolling the teachings of the Chinese sage, and Prof. Lino Baron of the University of Sto. Tomas wrote a timely article in the Manila Times about Confucianism, an ethical-socio-political philosophy and ideology that has strongly influenced Chinese, Korean, and Japanese governments and societies.

Though its impact is mostly felt in Northeast Asian countries, Confucianism has also influenced other countries. In Southeast Asia, Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew is a well-known advocate of Confucianism and I remember his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on an interview with Bloomberg’s Charlie Rose, saying that “Singapore is governed according to the precepts of Confucianism”. In the Philippines, Confucianism as applied in the body politic has attracted many followers as well. Among the many advocates of Confucianism that I know is the founder of the Asian Institute of Management, Mr. Washington SyCip and Philippine Star columnist and real estate businessman Wilson Lee Flores.

Prof. Baron’s article “Confucianism and its relevance to Filipino thoughts” was first posted in the Manila Times and I have asked his permission to repost it here on PH.CN for my subscribers reading pleasure. Below is the complete text of his article.

Many philosophers of ancient China, who taught the proper way of life, wielded the strong influence of Chinese culture in the field of the people’s spiritual life and their relation with nature and fellowmen. During those times, the teachings and doctrine of these philosophers were considered the basis of life of the people with the family and the society and molded the leaders and the spiritual lives of many. With their wisdom and untiring search for knowledge, ideologies were produced and the religious beliefs and political tenets saw light.

One of the philosophers was Confucius. His teachings still greatly influence the human relations of Asia and are the foundation of family life. In many other parts of the world the wisdom of Confucius has gained ready acceptance. An emphasis upon moral principles as the basis of harmony in the home, in society, and among nations is contrary to Buddhist thought but is both Confucianism and Christianity.

The life and teachings of Confucius has been the subject of an enormous writing, much of it highly fanciful. Arthur Waley, the great translator of Confucian texts, concludes that “one could construct half a dozen other Confuciuses by tapping the legend at different stages of its evolution. What is known of the original man is drawn from the Analects (Lun Yu) and from a brief eulogistic biography written by China’s most famous historian, Ssu-ma Chien, who lived three hundred years after Confucius.”

Confucius, born 551 years before Jesus Christ in Tsou, a small town in the old state of Lu (which today is known as Shandong province), worked for the restoration of the glory of the Chou dynasty as his life-long crusade. For historians, this is quite a paradox, for as men reached the apex of his development during the Chou dynasty, so did man’s inhumanity reached its zenith.

These puzzling questions remind us of the Philippine situation today. A quick glance at the headlines of the newspapers will underscore the alarming reality of our time: blatant corruption in high places, grinding poverty among the greater majority, heinous crimes with the hapless children, women and old people as victims and an escalating apathy among the youth who see no hope in their country’s future.

In our anger, shame and desperation, we are driven to shake our fist at the universe and ask why, despite the advancement in technology and science, our society is still mired in the quagmire of violence and crass opportunism. We cannot wait for a child as pure as crystal who will save the country from doom. What we can do is examine our frames of mind, the wellspring of our thoughts, our national psyche in order to get the root of this discomfort.

In the Lun Yun or Book of Analects, comprised of wise saying that embody Confucius’ ethical principle, it is stated:

“Each day I examine myself on three counts: whether or not I am loyal to those in whose behalf I act; whether or not I am trustworthy in my dealing with friends; whether or not I practice what is imparted.”

From this passage alone, we glean what are preeminent in Confucian thoughts as a foundation of the life of perfect goodness: sincerity, benevolence, filial piety and propriety. These are the very values which should govern Filipino thoughts towards the attainment of harmony and peace in our beleaguered society.

In the ancient days before Spain’s colonization of the Philippines, these were values esteemed highly by the Filipinos who traded freely with the Chinese. It is chronicled in the Sung Annals of 982 AD that Chinese merchants value their commerce with our ancestors because they always honored their end of the bargain. They would leave their wares by the shore of the islands, which the natives would pick up and barter inland. After three to six months, they would return with recompense of abundant goods that was well worth the long wait by the traders. There were no written contracts and recorded ledgers, but the Filipinos’ word was worth its weight in gold.

However, with the passage of time, as our people exchanged one colonial master for another with the failed revolution of 1898, our values turned to a steady decline. We had a succession of inept governments, helmed by confused leaders and hemmed by the vicissitudes of economic misfortunes. We had a second martyrdom after Bagumbayan, the tarmac assassination of Ninoy Aquino who tried to roll the great rock of the dictatorship, but which tore asunder the moral fiber of the nation. We had several chapters of people power with EDSA 1,2 and 3, with their promise of moral regeneration that ended with a whimper and a sigh. At present, we are petrified with fear and trepidation for the next scandal that will rock our government’s all too shaky foundation and further erode the value of our all too puny peso.

Filipinos should think long and hard about the iniquities which have been crippling the country for centuries: the mentality of palusot, palakasan, padrino, bahala na, and other self-aggrandizing behavior which tramples our inherent sense of decency and fairness.

Leaders in government, in particular, must hearken to his rebuke:

“In leading a state of a thousand chariots, respect the office and be trustworthy; economize in the use of resources and love the people, and employ the people when it is timely.”

It is said the doctrines of Confucius have been through a thousand autumns and will continue without change for ten thousand generations to come. With his precepts, let us continue to think for the good of humanity, and as his disciple Hsia resounded:

“To revere virtue instead of beauty, to devote all strength to serving our parents, to be willing to die in serving the Lord, to speak with trustworthiness in dealing with friends.”

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On Filipino DH’s Permanent Residency in HK

Yesterday, in an unprecedented legal ruling in Hong Kong, Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino maid who has been working in the city since 1986, won the opening legal battle in her fight for permanent residency after Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance ruled that an immigration provision excluding the city’s hundreds of thousands of foreign maids was unconstitutional and inconsistent with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. What would be the possible ramification of this court ruling to Hong Kong? What is the core issue of this permanent residency debacle?

Permanent residency is the closest thing that the Hong Kong special administrative region of China has to citizenship. Article 24 of the Basic Law defines who may become a Hong Kong Permanent Resident and have the right of abode. Most of the definitions involve Chinese citizens but Item 4 states – “Persons not of Chinese nationality who have entered Hong Kong with valid travel documents, have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”

To put flesh to Article 24 (4) Hong Kong’s Immigration Department’s ordinance articulates who qualifies to become a permanent resident – “A person shall not be treated as ordinarily resident in Hong Kong while employed as a domestic helper who is from outside Hong Kong.”

This interpretation of the Hong Kong Immigration Department has sparked major debates in Hong Kong and has even prompted law makers and legal luminaries to seek the thoughts of the national government in Beijing to help clarify the issue and to put an end to the dispute over permanent residency claims of several domestic helper groups.

In addition to this immigration rule, foreign maids (mostly Filipinos and Indonesians) in Hong Kong are only allowed to have two weeks to get a new employment contract once their current employment lapse otherwise they would be deported. How possible it is to get employment contract in Hong Kong in two weeks? This “two weeks rule” has been criticized by the United Nations as unfair and as a form of racial discrimination.

As of December of last year, there are 117,000 foreign maids (mostly Filipinos and Indonesians) that had been in Hong Kong for more than seven years and Ms. Vallejos’ recent legal victory have raised the issue to an even more intense and divisive issue. Locals fear that there would be an “overnight” increase on the already populated Hong Kong and it would have a negative effect on the economy and as well to its political system. As I see it, there are up-sides and down-sides on this recent court ruling on foreign domestic workers to have permanent residency.

On the up-side, just as Hong Kong’s economy was prospered by massive integration of foreigners and immigrants in the 1950’s, the recent immigration ruling can also be viewed as another turning point in positively reframing Hong Kong’s social strata. The “new residents” could help improve the city’s population structure and address its ageing population and low birth. The “new residents”, many of whom have university degrees in nursing and midwifery could also help Hong Kong with its acute staffing problems in public health facilities. The “new residents” can contribute to the further growth and development of Hong Kong.

On the down-side, Chinese workers with low incomes in Hong Kong could lose their jobs from the “new residents” and their relatives that they can now bring into the city by virtue of having permanent residency. Unemployment rate might also climb and welfare expenditure by the government could likely increase. The “new residents” can also become a political force in Hong Kong and a virtual Filipino or Indonesian Party would appear in Hong Kong’s Legislative Congress as they can now vote in elections and run for public office. This would certainly become a cause of concern not only for Hong Kong politicians but most importantly from those in Beijing who are espousing the “One country, two systems” program in Hong Kong.

I have also some concerns on how domestic helpers and their relatives who would come over to Hong Kong can cope up with the high cost of living in the city. You see, once they received their permanent residency, their employers would not be required any longer to provide them food and accommodation. Wouldn’t it be better if maids would receive higher wages and more benefits?

Knowing how Hong Kong government operates and on how the locals react to the issue, surely, the Hong Kong government would appeal the case and it would implement a restraining order in issuing permanent residency to domestic helpers. The government would also revise its labor laws setting a maximum number of years (less than 7 years) for foreign maids to lawfully work in Hong Kong. I am quite certain that that they would do whatever they can to disallow foreign domestic  helpers to have permanent residency.

More than the ramification that this recent ruling can possibly do to Hong Kong, one important issue that I think is the real and core issue of this permanent residency debacle is the issue of upholding just laws and human rights. In HK, it appears that there is an immigration ordinance that is inconsistent of its constitution and there is a rule that discriminates domestic helpers. There is a set of rules for rich foreign workers and poor foreign workers. Ms. Vallejo’s legal victory is a slap in the face of many abusive Chinese Hong Kong DH employers who are yet to realize that domestic helpers are individuals with rights, dignity, and value.

Image credit: Inquirer Global Nation