Secret diplomacy inconsistent with Constitution | Inquirer Opinion

Secret diplomacy inconsistent with Constitution

05:04 AM June 20, 2018

In a recent statement, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan P. Cayetano claimed that, in our diplomacy with China, it is not essential to let the people know the agreements the Philippines has made with Beijing on the West Philippine Sea dispute.

This is a clear admission that we are engaged in secret diplomacy, a discredited practice that is also inconsistent with our Constitution.


Secret diplomacy was the norm in international relations up to the end of World War I. The big powers engaged in it by hiding from their own people the agreements they had concluded with each other.

The Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin made a major contribution to diplomacy when, upon assuming power in Russia, he opened the archives of the ousted Tsarist regime and exposed the secret agreements among the Allied Powers in World War I on how they would divide the spoils once they had won the war.


The release of the secret agreements, as expected, caused an uproar in the Allied countries. Their citizens were not pleased when they learned that they were called upon to stake their lives on causes unknown to them. In response to this uproar, US President Woodrow Wilson made his well-known dictum that “All international agreements must be the product of covenants openly arrived at.”

It’s been pointed out that some negotiations may be so sensitive in nature that it may not be beneficial to let the public know about them. However, while negotiations may be kept secret, the results of such negotiations must always be made public, if countries would like to call themselves democratic and the actions of their government made accountable to the people.

On this basis, President Duterte and Cayetano could be held liable for violation of Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to
the people…”

How can Mr. Duterte and Cayetano be held accountable if the public is not even informed about the agreements they have concluded with China? The public is entitled to know, at the very least, whether the initiatives taken by this administration are appropriate to the national-security interests of our country.

Cayetano speaks of a red line the Philippines has supposedly drawn in the dispute. That so-called red line is if the Chinese attack the Philippine garrison on Pag-asa Island. His statement is the equivalent of a homeowner who, in the face of an intruder, draws the line between the living room of his house and his bedroom, instead of putting the line before the front gate of his house.

It is a case of giving away the most valuable parts of a person’s property — in this case, precious Philippine territory. This is exactly what is happening now, with the Chinese repeatedly expanding the areas under their control at the expense of our country’s sovereign territory.

Under the Constitution, the Senate must give its imprimatur to all international agreements. The Senate should ask the executive branch to submit all the agreements the Duterte administration has so far concluded with the Chinese (and even its other proposed agreements, such as the joint exploration of resources the President has mentioned, the better for the public to scrutinize them).


This includes the alleged guarantee by Chinese president Xi Jinping to Mr. Duterte that he will be protected against any attempt at regime change. If true, this is a far-reaching guarantee with no explicit restrictions. Even if we remove Mr. Duterte by constitutional means through impeachment, China can come in.

This is the danger of secret diplomacy. The Filipino people will not know if national security has been sold down the river.

* * *

Hermenegildo C. Cruz served as Philippine ambassador to Chile and Bolivia in 1989-1993.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, Alan Peter Cayetano, China-Philippines relations, Hermenegildo C. Cruz, Inquirer Commentary, Maritime Dispute, Rodrigo Duterte, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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