Two lessons in diplomacy | Inquirer Opinion

Two lessons in diplomacy

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. recently took two initiatives on foreign policy : 1) He warned presidential spokesperson Harry Roque to abstain from making pronouncements on foreign policy; and 2) he proposed to lead in the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.

Locsin’s warning to Roque has basis in law. In 1969 when the Integrated Re-organization Commission was convened to draft the 1972 Integrated Re-organization Plan (IRP), then Secretary Carlos P. Romulo told our representation, to wit: “I don’t want to be a William Rogers with a Henry Kissinger riding over my back in conducting our foreign relations.”


Romulo was referring to the setup in the United States then. The secretary of state was William Rogers, but Henry Kissinger, national security adviser, was calling the shots on US foreign policy. Thus, in the Declaration of Policy of the IRP, we stated: “The DFA shall assist the President in foreign policy planning and formulation, to maintain its leadership in the coordination and implementation of foreign policy and the conduct of foreign relations and to re-emphasize its expanded role both in the political and socio-economic fields.” We expanded Romulo’s instructions to include international economic relations.

The IRP was implemented by Presidential Decree No. 1 when martial law was declared in 1972. A few months later, Gov. Benjamin Romualdez was riding the back of Romulo in the conduct of foreign relations. Romualdez established the Aguado Office which became our second foreign ministry. Whereas Kissinger was only interfering in the formulation of US foreign policy, Romualdez went further. He established his own staff, known as the “Cocoy Boys,” with their own system of promotions and assignments.


Under Benigno Aquino III, in the crises involving refugees from Bangladesh and the Rohingya from Myanmar, then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima proposed that Asean “x x x send rescue ships for the refugees in a concerted effort, (a) regional action x x x” (“Too many DFAs,” 6/9/15). Even the President cannot send our armed forces abroad without authority from Congress.

Fortunately, De Lima’s initiative was not accepted by our Asean partners. We do not have a blue water navy that can operate in the high seas. One can argue that De Lima properly belongs in jail, except that she is there now for the wrong reason.

The second Locsin initiative is to restore democracy in Myanmar with the participation of China and India but excluding the Western powers. This is a case of an ant leading two elephants to the waterhole. Playing the role of peacemaker is big power diplomacy. To play such a role requires leverage, by weaponizing foreign aid, trade, investments, military assistance, and historical ties with the target country. In resources, we have seen US secretaries of state engaged in shuttle diplomacy in world trouble spots. They can do this because they have the means, such as state-of-the-art jumbo jets with worldwide communications link-up.

Evidently, we do not have the leverage or the resources to perform the role envisioned by Locsin in Myanmar. Locsin’s initiative, as expected, got nowhere. We ended up opposing the UN resolution backed by Western countries to restore democracy in Myanmar.

When we designed the structure of the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1969, we anticipated that most of our initiatives would be done through Asean. The Locsin initiative bypassed Asean in favor of joint action with China and India on Myanmar. The problem is, Thailand which shares a common border with Myanmar may not welcome a Chinese hand in the country. In the 1980s, when Vietnam invaded Kampuchea, we deferred for security reasons to our Thai colleagues since they have a common border with Kampuchea. This precedent applies in Myanmar.

Locsin took an initiative that was doomed from the start, but nonetheless could have upset our Asean partners. The abject lesson is, in diplomacy our role must be commensurate with our status as a small power. Locsin and De Lima erred.


Hermenegildo C. Cruz is a retired career ambassador who served in this capacity in Bolivia, Chile, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations. He is the only surviving member of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Integrated Re-organization Commission, which drafted the structure of the DFA under the 1972 Re-organization Plan. Cruz is also one of the authors of Republic Act No. 7157, The Foreign Service Act of 1991, which amended some parts of the 1972 Re-organization Plan.

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TAGS: DFA, foreign policy, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
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