Empowering the Filipino People
By FIDEL V. RAMOS Former Philippine President
MANILA, Philippines — We are at a crucial period of Philippine nation-building. In the center of events is the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona by the Senate (as Impeachment Tribunal) upon the filing of 8 Articles of Impeachment approved by the House of Representatives.
To concerned Filipinos and interested foreign onlookers, however, all three branches of Government – the Executive, Congress, and Judiciary which are separate, but co-equal and coordinate – are considered active protagonists in this titanic exercise which must be decided on the basis of “the merits” and the rule of law, in accordance with the Constitution. The future character of our nation and the welfare of our people ride on the impeachment results.
Both prosecution and defense, and especially the Senate Court, have expressed common hopes that the entire proceedings will be completed with impartiality, and final judgment delivered as expeditiously as possible.
Clearly, such is also the citizenry’s larger interest for a just but transforming outcome, considering the impact of the ultimate decision on many other grave problems facing the Filipino people today. Filipinos aspire for a better future under the blessings of God, and a more inclusive, more representative, more peaceful, more prosperous, and truly sustainable democracy.
From the perspective of the first four days of the impeachment hearings, it may be opined that the Corona trial had proceeded as well as one can expect – under the learned, experienced Senate President, Juan Ponce Enrile.
The opening amenities and preliminary technical skirmishes have been dealt with and, thankfully, the substantive debate between the prosecution and defense panels has begun to unfold. The public-at-large (unceasingly served by eager media) continues to be focused on the engrossing spectacle of the happenings in the Impeachment Court and the analyses by legal experts.
On the basis of the presentation of evidence and examination of the first several witnesses, we foresee a long-drawn trial that could use up much of the time and energy of the principals, and conceivably frustrate an impatient public. One media anchor jokes that the proceedings may extend beyond the terms of the House prosecutors and some Senate-judges.
So, what else is new? Plenty.
It is welcome news that Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has urged ASEAN members to organize, as soon as possible, a summit meeting involving China and the five other claimants in pursuance of the peaceful and enduring resolution of the long-simmering territorial disputes in the Spratlys and other islands of the South China Sea (SCS). He committed that the Philippines is willing to host this unprecedented meeting.
The Philippines and fellow ASEAN nations Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei – along with China and Taiwan – have overlapping claims in the SCS that have become the source of rising tensions in our region. Last year, the Philippines proposed that the disputed islands be turned into common areas where China and other claimants could jointly undertake confidence-building measures that could lead to the peaceful development of rich gas, oil, and other resources therein.
The importance of such a higher-level problem-solving conference at this time cannot be denied, given other encouraging developments – because of which the unwanted use of armed force and build-up of military assets can be redirected to better purposes.
How beneficial, indeed, for all concerned if their human talents, scarce funds and precious time were instead devoted to the establishment of durable foundations for peace and prosperity for all !!
Sec. Del Rosario reiterated that ASEAN must aim for the MULTILATERAL RESOLUTION of the disputes on the basis of internationally accepted covenants, notably the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Earlier, senior Chinese and ASEAN diplomats met in Beijing to discuss newly agreed guidelines on pursuing joint projects in the disputed territories, but did not tackle possible solutions.
The mischief Reef story
It is essential for ASEAN and Chinese policy-makers to appreciate the history of earlier diplomacy re SCS when leaders made collective peace-building commitments to deter China from her military incursions, but fell short of multilateral solutions.
In his book, “The Philippines in ASEAN,” (2011) author M.C. Abad Jr., Chairman of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies, records: “In February, 1995, the Philippines discovered Chinese-constructed structures on the Mischief Reef, some 130 miles from Palawan province. The Philippines (vigorously) protested the intrusion.
“Following our protest, China agreed to hold consultations starting in March, 1995. In August, 1995, upon President FVR’s initiatives, the two countries entered into a bilateral Code of Conduct in the SCS. They committed to refrain from using force or threat of force to resolve disputes. While agreeing to undertake progressive processes of cooperation with the view to eventually negotiating a peaceful settlement, both sides also agreed to pursue MULTILATERAL COOPERATION in the SCS ‘at the appropriate time.’”
The Philippines and China stressed the importance of bilateral cooperative confidence-building. It was a breakthrough with China under then President Jiang Zemin to agree to such a bilateral code of peaceful behavior.
However, even after its signing, President FVR complained that the Philippines “cannot become completely at ease in our bilateral relationships (with China) until the situation in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef is completely normalized. Until then, we and our neighbors in Southeast Asia must remain vigilant about China’s intentions in the SCS.’”
Earlier, he stated that if, indeed, Mischief Reef was portrayed by China as a “fishermen’s sanctuary,” then it should be made available to all distressed fishermen, regardless of nationality.
FVR had pictures taken and published by international media of newly constructed naval outposts thereon. He also urged Vietnam and China themselves to forge their own Code of Conduct to defuse what he considered “the greatest threat” to peace and security in Southeast Asia.
In his opening address at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (1992), the first hosted under his Administration, FVR wasted no time in calling for serious efforts “to seek a solution “lest the unsettled situation leads to perilous developments.”
A historic Summit of East Asia
In November, 1995, Vietnam and the Philippines issued a joint statement adopting their Code of Conduct in the SCS and called for a progressive process, “based on certain principles and benchmarks,” aimed at their closer cooperation and eventual settlement of disputes.
This was followed by FVR’s proposal to demilitarize the SCS and apply the concept of “stewardship,” where each littoral state around the contested islets would assume stewardship over the area closest to it, without prejudice to pending claims.
He further took up the SCS dispute with East Asian countries when, in December, 1997, the ASEAN heads of government, individually and as a group, met with the heads of China, Japan, and South Korea, in what was considered a historic Summit of East Asian Leaders. The joint communique from that conference reaffirmed key principles, particularly respect for each other’s territorial integrity and commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes.
The Mischief Reef issue has been taken most seriously by the Philippines because it is located well within our 200-mile exclusive economic zone sanctioned under the UNCLOS. In contrast, the reef is more than six hundred miles southeast of China. The Philippines has called China’s act of building military structures (obviously not mere ‘fishermen’s sanctuaries’) thereon as illegal occupation – inconsistent with international law and violative of the UN’s principles of peaceful international relations.
Ship “Pilipinas” at risk
Let us ensure that our better future symbolized by our Ship “Pilipinas” will not suffer the sad fate of cruise ship “Costa Concordia” that sank off the Italian coast last week. Its skipper abandoned ship while the rescue of about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew was still ongoing. At least 11 died while dozens are still missing.
Many grateful survivors, however, attested to the heroic acts of the ship’s 300 Filipino crew members – most of whom have been repatriated to Manila.
Every Filipino here and abroad (including the unborn) are all aboard our only Ship “Pilipinas” with P-Noy as Skipper. Nation-building is a continuous national effort, and all hands must “pull an oar and plug a hole” so that “Pilipinas” can steadily advance faster, stronger, and higher. Its passenger list includes the Executive, Congress, and the Supreme Court!!
Accordingly, we all pray that P-Noy proves to be a better skipper than that of the ill-fated “Costa Concordia” – because Filipinos are still at risk in today’s stormy seas.
Likewise, to all claimant-countries in the SCS, we say: “Please remember we cannot change the past; we can only improve our future. Let us not wait for the ravages of global warming or pilot errors to submerge our bountiful reserves of goodwill, and waste opportunities to show that we are capable of becoming ‘One Asia’ and fulfill the vision of the ‘Asian Century.’”
Other positive developments are emanating from the US, Taiwan, and fellow ASEAN nations.
Next week, abangan, Part Two.
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