Narratives of retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has many missing parts that beg investigation for the benefit of any intelligent and objective person as well as “think tanks,” who want to know what really happened in the 2012 Scarborough Shoal. Key questions and stories are being blocked and stampeded to show China as the villain in the incident, the United States as protector, and the Carpio-del Rosario et al. group as heroes. Let us examine some facts and perspectives and ask ourselves why they and the people who know about them are always left out. A study of victories, errors, and realities is always good for us.
Did China renege on the Scarborough deal as these supposed “experts” say to be true? China denies any deal was reached and US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has never challenged this denial. Yet del Rosario asserts betrayal by China when he was neither personally part of discussions nor a witness to the alleged deal. Worse, he did not even know the details of determining the process of simultaneous withdrawals.
A question of competence, or of negligence, has to be raised when despite public questions raised, there has not been a narrated sequence of steps for a simultaneous withdrawal of boats from the shoals… no protocol?!
The narration by former senator Antonio Trillanes 4th and others that then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd appeared surprised by the order to pull out the Philippine vessels and that the order to leave was given by del Rosario was never denied by Aquino until he passed away recently.
Trillanes in a couple of months’ back-channeling outperformed del Rosario’s work by far, we may not have needed to spend almost 1 billion pesos for the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Trillanes had successfully not only negotiated the Chinese boats’ withdrawal in several steps but had it smoothly executed, down from nearly 100 to just three. These can be verified in Philippine government records and public media. He was about to negotiate the final withdrawals, which had already been discussed in principle with the Chinese. Del Rosario’s approaches had not achieved anything except US involvement, exacerbated the tensions in the area, cost the Filipino taxpayers at least a billion pesos in legal fees for a document that cannot be enforced, and as later developments would reveal, significantly downgraded the Philippine claims. His excellent relation-building skills with US senators and congressmen, urbane charm, were not visibly applied where China was concerned.
Even Aquino acknowledged Trillanes’ “minor successes” in de-escalating the tensions, the withdrawal of over 90 Chinese ships. But instead of appreciating such successes, an infuriated del Rosario demanded that the then-Chief Executive stop Trillanes’ involvement. When told that the Chinese asked only that the negotiations not be made public and that there be no internationalization of the withdrawals, del Rosario still pushed for public announcements. Having convinced President Aquino to take this approach, we are faced today with a failed agreement, which Carpio and del Rosario would like to attribute to China. Understandable human nature and politics. On China’s part, if the Philippine position is so totally belonging to the US, they would intelligently consider that the Philippines is a US base and an existential threat. The Philippines comes into the line of fire between the powers.
Since del Rosario’s appointment as Foreign Affairs secretary in 2011, relations with China declined. The many occasions to meet with the Chinese ambassador in Manila or to establish normal arrangements with the Philippine Embassy in Beijing over appointing an ambassador, for example, suffered long delays or did not happen at all. Exchanges were even provocative, relations frayed, and trust levels deteriorated.
Why was del Rosario so opposed to back-channeling when Aquino favored it? President Aquino was right to use back-channeling since results were achieved smoothly (but as often happens especially in the Philippines, emotions, biases, politics won out and so Filipinos and friendships are damaged).
Apparently, PNoy understood in some way, correctly as events showed, that others would likely have better chances of achieving some settlement. The former Foreign Affairs secretary’s insistence that the formal channels only was revised as he also resorted to “back-channeling” when he himself relied on the US to be the ones to negotiate, which he was only forced to reveal in 2019, when then-Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano publicly demanded an explanation. But why under terms that the Philippines has no say in? Or did we have a say, and agree foolishly to withdrawal without the conditions and processes, while provoking animosity rather than building trust?
- Govt should stop referring to arbitral ruling
Good management must usually choose the proven path succeeding, rather than a conflict-ridden path, much less use rivals-in-interest like the US where China is concerned, to mediate, especially undirected… It is known as “shooting yourself,” choosing to fail.
Back-channeling is normal and the right choice when existing formal channels do not work. Everyone in politics and especially diplomacy know and use it. Aside from Trillanes, Aquino also sent then-Interior chief Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd to speak with China’s then-Vice President Xi, and also others of lesser-known, to backchannel. Apparently, PNoy knew that progress was unlikely to happen with his formal team.
A channel narrated that while PNoy had asked to try to lift the issues with the bananas and the tourist discouragement in return for toning down of public challenges, favorable indications from both sides were disrupted by some party from the Department of Foreign Affairs going out at the same time asking Makati groups that they are patriots if they rally in public vs China. Funding for many of the rallies came from a millionaire US citizen heiress.
That decision to use the US as a mediator is questionable from all diplomatic and recent historical bases. China does not trust the US, which had just as of then recently invaded Iraq on subsequently proven false claims of weapons of mass destruction, and had just started an invasion of Libya, a country that was not a military threat, and with a sitting president Obama who had just declared a pivot to Asia, clearly to contain China. In the years afterward, especially under Trump, we have seen how the US treats its agreements… every arms control, environmental, the trade deal was not only walked away from but the parties were also insulted and even charged and embargoed. Yes, the US has the muscle, but are they to be mediators or enforcers?
Yes, we have territorial and other disputes, but why did Carpio and del Rosario never bring up the US giving away Sabah and refusing Philippine custody on Pemberton’s murder case, or Vietnam taking the Southwest Cay and trespassing most on our fishing grounds? Should we not seriously question the single-handed painting of China rather than the US or others as having a reliability issue? Or the painting of any party as pure good or pure evil? Shouldn’t we focus most on the betterment of our larger populations?
Also published in Manila Times on July 04, 2021. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (email@example.com).