Commitment to the Rule of Law

Ambassador Albert del Rosario - The Philippine Star

Back in 2012, during the 45th Foreign Ministers’ Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia and before the rendition of the Arbitral Award in favor of the Philippines, we were a lone voice trying to convince our neighbors to stand up to Chinese aggressions in the South China Sea, given that most diplomatic circles were opting for a policy of appeasement towards a powerful and rising China.

To press our point during that meeting, we quoted the famous lines of German theologian Martin Niemöller on the perils of doing nothing in the face of mounting tyranny. Describing how the unopposed Nazis first came for the communists and then the trade unionists, Niemöller said: “Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

As a result of our firm position during that ASEAN meeting, the ASEAN foreign ministers failed to produce an annual communique for the first time in 45 years because we were unwilling to sign a communique that would only serve China’s aggressions in the South China Sea.

As secretary of foreign affairs, we were also made responsible for bringing China before an international tribunal.

Given the myriad political pressures, we pursued an arduous case against China. Despite this, the Philippines came out vindicated when, on July 12, 2016, the international tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea rendered the Arbitral Award which ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea.

More than 10 years after the ASEAN meeting and almost seven years after the rendition of the Arbitral Award, we remain fully committed in our position of championing the Rule of Law and defending our country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea.

Thus, in addition to our arbitration case, we have undertaken steps and made recommendations in the pursuit of our advocacy for the Rule of Law in international affairs.

Among these steps and recommendations were mentioned in our 2011 interview with Ernest Bower of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which include (1) the clarification of the coverage of the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty or MDT and (2) our recommendation of operational lease of defense assets, as a cost-efficient means in building our country’s credible defense posture.

With regard to the clarification of the coverage of the MDT, we have taken significant step in our country’s favor when former US secretary of state Michael Pompeo and current US Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly declared that the MDT applies in the South China Sea as part of the Pacific and “any armed attack on any Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under…our Mutual Defense Treaty.”

On operational leases, we are respectfully making this recommendation to our current leadership as such program may allow us to obtain newer defense equipment at lesser cost and with faster delivery time.

Our country has long relied on “excess defense articles.” Though they remain useful, the costs for reconditioning and maintaining such excess defense articles become prohibitive over time.

Our analogy in this case would be acquiring a car. Buying a new car is usually expensive. Reconditioning and maintaining a used and donated car may also be expensive over time. However, like in a program of operational leases of defense articles, renting or leasing a car allows us to enjoy the benefits of acquiring a relatively new car, but at a cheaper price and without the waiting time for refurbishment.

At this somewhat late stage in our life, we shall remain steadfast in our commitment to the Rule of Law as our country and our people confront the challenges against their rights as a sovereign state.

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Ambassador Del Rosario is chair of the Stratbase ADR Institute and a former secretary of foreign affairs.


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