How sweet it is (2) | Inquirer Opinion
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How sweet it is (2)

Finally convinced that going multilateral was the best route, P-Noy convened  the Council of State (and/or the National Security Council) at the earliest opportunity after his return from Cambodia, reported what had occurred, and proposed that the Philippines go to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). There obviously was a great deal of discussion, but in the end, former president Fidel Ramos was the first to raise his hand in approval, followed by former president Joseph Estrada. The final vote was 36-1, the lone naysayer being Sen. Antonio Trillanes (AT).

Why the dissenting vote? It should be remembered that in early 2012, AT had figured either as a self-appointed or P-Noy-appointed back-channeler in talks with China (the issue actually hasn’t been resolved). At the height of the standoff at Scarborough Shoal, there was a tussle in the Senate between AT and then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, where words like “treason” (used by AT referring to statements or actions by then Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, or AR, which is ironic because now AT himself is also being accused of treason for his back-channeling activities) and “incompetence” (used by Enrile referring to statements or actions by AT) were bandied about.


Anyway, even at yearend 2012, AT was still advocating bilateral talks with China (in spite of China’s reneging on its word to vacate Scarborough, and other broken promises), and the proposal to go multilateral did not sit well with him.

Thus did the Philippines embark on the Unclos (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) route recommended by Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio (AC). And because of the memo and the consultations with international legal experts that had happened since 2011, the preparations for the case were done, and the case could be filed almost immediately.


But it was not as easy as you’d think. Almost at every step of the way, there were hindrances and objections. AT was at least up front about it; others worked feverishly behind the scenes to subvert it. My information (unimpeachable) is that the objectors were led by the so-called Samar Group (vs the Balay Group) composed of P-Noy’s allies who wanted Jojo Binay, rather than Mar Roxas, to be vice president in 2010. Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa’s name was mentioned as heading the anti-arbitration move.

Why did they undermine? Because they were pushing for the alternative of joint development with China, starting with Reed Bank (full of gas and oil, apparently). The Reader may recall that VP Binay’s stand on the issue was precisely this. The Reader may also recall that subsequently, China issued a statement that it would not engage in any talks until the 2016 presidential election was over and a new president was in place (hoping, I suppose, that Binay would be the one). No little amount of self-interest was at play here.

So what’s wrong with joint development? It certainly sounds more peaceful and friendly than arbitration. Here is how AC described it: “In proposing joint development, China in effect is telling the Philippines … ‘What is mine is mine and what is yours we share.’” AC also believes that joint development runs counter to our Constitution.

How did they undermine? They sabotaged the efforts of our legal team. Whispers in the President’s ear sometimes did the trick. (Ochoa did this successfully in the case of Grace Pulido-Tan’s bid for a seat in the Supreme Court. She was told she had it the night before, but by morning, it belonged to Francis Jardeleza, who took his oath at 8 a.m., as if to make sure the President had no opportunity to change his mind again.)

Also, by instructions to the legal team that would have weakened our case considerably, had they been followed. In one instance, our chief counsel, Paul Reichler, flew in just to explain the situation to P-Noy.  Reichler was made to wait for four hours, and in the end was told the President could not see him. In another instance, the Reichler team was told to ignore the PCA’s questions, despite the team’s pleas that such would prove fatal for our case. The team’s pleas would have fallen on deaf ears except for AC’s intervention.

AR and AC’s weapons included asking Cabinet secretaries who also had the President’s ear (e.g., then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima) to neutralize whatever were the efforts of the other side.

To top it all, China was not sitting idly by. Directly or indirectly, it offered all kinds of goodies, if the case was withdrawn: a guaranteed minimum amount of tourists, of investments, of soft loans to the country, every year. It was all very attractive, until it was pointed out that based on past experience, China does not keep its word. And then where would we be?


It took fortitude, commitment and immense love of country to be able to withstand these pressures. And that’s why AC and AR are owed an immense debt of gratitude by Filipinos for generations to come.

What lessons can be drawn from this experience? Offhand, one can glean the following:

  1. The Power of One. This success story started with a memo, written by one person who was concerned about China’s depredations on what is essentially ours, and who brought all his knowledge and experience to bear on finding a solution. Let’s not be afraid to stand for what is right.
  1. Doing one’s homework. Nothing substitutes for hard work, studying the situation, and mapping out all the scenarios, ahead of time.
  1. That the Philippines is worth fighting for. And there are Filipinos who are willing to do it. May their tribe increase.
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TAGS: Albert del Rosario, Antonio Carpio, Antonio trillanes, Benigno Aquino III, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Permanent Court of Arbitration, South China Sea, Unclos
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