The Philippine government has abandoned an established diplomatic mechanism in dealing with China’s encroachment in the country’s territories in the West Philippine Sea and in the Philippine Rise by scuttling the option of lodging diplomatic protests, a time-honored tradition of most countries.
Instead, the Department of Foreign Affairs dismissively says nowadays, and only when the media is pressing for answers, that all contentious issues with China shall be discussed in a supposed bilateral dialogue mechanism which is suddenly, and today, presumed to be in place.
China has militarized the West Philippine Sea and has done so with tacit encouragement from the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte. The status quo has far-reaching implications not only on the geopolitical balance of global power in the region but more importantly for the Philippines, its immediate and long-term interests.
China regards the entire South China Sea as its own territory and has not backed away an inch from this position even as the Philippines had won an important arbitration case in The Hague that officially recognized its sovereignty over the areas within its exclusive economic zone.
In lieu of defining a sensible and consistent foreign policy agenda on the maritime territories, the administration has consistently fudged the issue with conflicting statements that plays into Beijing’s interests. From the time presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte outlined his aggressive foreign policy prefixed with a presidential jetski ride to the disputed territories, Malacanang has reversed the rhetoric completely. It has dismissed the arbitration ruling and abruptly aligned itself with China, prefixed with a presidential banter that the country’s interest is better served if it becomes a mere province of China.
There has been no deliberate intention and transparency of action on the formulation of an overarching foreign policy agenda of the Philippines if ever there is one, beyond what the Palace and the Department of Foreign Affairs say in piecemeal explanations. Neither any of the co-equal branches of government have called Malacanang to task over this confusion. The country’s foreign policy is determined only by a President who regards any questioning of it as a belligerent act.
The local government of Palawan, in particular, has never had a chance to input on this policy, considering that the disputed territory is part of the Kalayaan municipality, the province’s 23rd town.
President Duterte had long abandoned his promises made when he set foot in the province during the presidential campaigns, among which is the vow to defend the Kalayaan territories as our own. He had even promised Palawan to receive its share from gas royalties emanating from Malampaya, which for Beijing is also part of their territory. Palawan officials are simply too shy, if not afraid, to collect on these promises.
So be it, that there is a bilateral consultation mechanism, according to Malacanang and the DFA. It is however not clear what the parameters of this mechanism are. From where we sit, it is all smokescreen for doing nothing. This is the view from Palawan, even if our leaders are being too careful not to ask.