The gall of our ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia and the former foreign affairs secretary to berate President Duterte’s foreign affairs secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. for allegedly not pushing the Asean hard enough to demand China’s compliance with the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration favoring the Philippine suit!
That is the problem when the government appoints political envoys, especially rich ones who are too full of themselves they ignore the discipline of the Foreign Service Corps. Worse is when our foreign affairs officials are so obviously pro-American – labeled in the 1970s as “Am-boys” – that they think their era of Pax Americana still runs to this day, even in Asia.
In the first place, aren’t they aware that the foreign affairs secretary is the alter ego of the President, that Yasay’s stance expressed during the Asean meeting held last week was not his personal position but that of the President of the Republic? Or do Cuisia and del Rosario think Duterte is so stupid as not to understand foreign affairs?
For his comments, Cuisia should be recalled immediately, and let the deputy chief of mission take over. He may be a stupendously rich executive. In fact, Cuisia – even while serving as ambassador to the US – kept getting millions of pesos in compensation from eight huge companies of which he is vice chairman or director, among them Philippine American Life and General Insurance Company (Philam Life) and the firm that distributes Chevrolet cars in the Philippines. A part-time ambassador to the most important embassy in the world? What must the US think of us, that our ambassadors don’t get enough compensation for their government service that they need to moonlight as director of several companies even if that could involve conflict of interest?
Cuisia forgets that until he is relieved, he is a foreign affairs functionary, whose immediate boss now is Yasay. How can an undersecretary — the rank of an ambassador in the foreign affairs department — criticize the official actions of the DFA secretary, the chief envoy, and the President’s alter ego?
“I’m disappointed that Asean did not come out with a unified statement because [the United States], Japan and Australia have supported the ruling,” Cuisia said. “Why can’t Asean say that? Is it because we are so afraid to upset China?” he added.
Does Cuisia have special expertise or an official role in the disputes over the South China Sea that he can publicly criticize the incumbent government’s stance on this controversy? Can our ambassadors elsewhere criticize Cuisia’s actions in our embassy in the US? Or has Cuisia, after six years in Washington, become confused about what he is, our ambassador to the US, and not an American envoy. Has he forgotten that our military force isn’t that of the US, which can upset China anytime?
Or has Cuisia worked too long as CEO of Philam Life — owned by the American AIG, which went bankrupt during the US financial crisis — and as chairman of Chevrolet Philippines, that he now thinks like an American and has imbibed in his mind the US’ plot euphemistically called “Pivot to Asia” but which, in reality, is the American program to weaken the influence of China on Asia?
From New York
The other Am-boy who lambasted Yasay for his stance on the Asean meeting is former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, who since he was 11 years old, has lived and studied in the US, mostly in New York. Like singing a duet with Cuisia, del Rosario said Yasay “should have stood strongly in promoting [the ruling] as part of the Asean joint statement.”
Del Rosario, who presents himself as an old-school gentleman, forgets that a former foreign affairs secretary does not criticize the statements and policy of his immediate successor. Why? Because it sends a signal to the world that there is no unity in the country’s foreign affairs policy, and therefore, that country’s policy is weak and should be ignored.
Del Rosario, in fact, has not debunked an allegation made against him by Senator Antonio Trillanes that the foreign affairs secretary then gave President Aquino during the Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012 the wrong information that the Americans had arranged for the Chinese ships to leave the shoal simultaneously with the Philippine ships. According to Trillanes, on the basis of that report from del Rosario, Aquino then ordered our ships to leave the shoal — only to find out that the Chinese ships were still there. That’s how we lost the Scarborough Shoal, the first time we lost a territory in the Spratlys since 1996.
Cuisia and del Rosario’s vociferous tirade against Yasay convinces me more and more that the previous Administration’s confrontation with China over Scarborough Shoal and the filing of the case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration was a brilliant US maneuver to put pressure on the emerging superpower to ease up on its expansion in the South China Sea. Who gave former President Aquino so soon the warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which this incompetent leader deployed to Scarborough Shoal, providing the Chinese an excuse to occupy the area on grounds that the Philippines was militarizing it?
As I’ve written in previous columns, the US had been in a quagmire over China’s projection of its military power in the South China Sea. It cannot flex its muscles, militarily or legally in the area. It is not a claimant in any dispute over a territory in the South China Sea. It has refused to join UNCLOS, unlike China, which signed the pact, but with categorical qualifications that it cannot be a basis for determining sovereignty over any territory that it claims. The US cannot count on any of the other claimants — Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan — to move against China. These countries are pragmatic nationalists. Even Vietnam, which lost two-dozen marines and two ships in a firefight with Chinese troops over the Paracel islands in 1974, has refused to be America’s lackey in the South China Sea dispute.
Only its former colony, the Philippines, with high-ranking pro-American officials like the former President himself, Benigno S. Aquino, and his foreign affairs secretary del Rosario, would be more than willing to make the country America’s proxy.
In sharp contrast to del Rosario and Cuisia’s vehement criticism of the Philippine stance on the issue at the Asean meeting, a more rational and sober analysis of what happened was written in The Jakarta Post by its editor-in-chief Endi Bayuni, which was also published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s opinion page on July 30.
Excerpts from that piece:
ASEAN has survived its first serious test as a new community, one could even say with flying colors. Against all odds and predictions, the regional group this week came up with a common response to the ongoing maritime and territorial disputes that four of its members have with China in the South China Sea.
The wording of a joint statement by their foreign ministers meeting in Vientiane on Monday… is a position that all 10 member countries openly subscribe to, although they have different interests and approaches in dealing with China, including in addressing the South China Sea disputes.
Skeptics took their cue from the disastrous 2012 meeting in Phnom Penh when they failed to issue a communiqué for the first time in ASEAN’s history, then also over how they should approach China. [Note by RDT: It was del Rosario in this meeting who pushed for that confrontational communiqué that was confrontational to China, which most of the Asean nations rejected. Asean policy is that any country can veto a communiqué, so no communiqué was issued.]
“We remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” reads paragraph 174 of the communiqué adopted by all 10 members in Vientiane.
Paragraph 177 states: “We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.”
No one can accuse ASEAN of skirting the thorny issue when eight of the 191 points in the statement were dedicated to the situation in the South China Sea.
By now, China has become the second largest economy in the world, and for all ASEAN member countries, China is their biggest trading partner and also a major source of badly needed financial investments.
While none of the ASEAN claimant countries are backing off from their position in the South China Sea, they continue to pin their hopes on diplomacy.
ASEAN has extended its hands. The ball is in China’s court.