By ELLEN T. TORDESILLAS
FORMER Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro is being eyed by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to be his foreign secretary, not as defense secretary, as some new reports say, a source close to Duterte said.
In an interview before the May 9 election, the source said Teodoro has not yet responded to the invitation to join the Duterte cabinet.
Teodoro ran for president in 2010 but lost to his cousin, Benigno Aquino III.
The job of foreign secretary would be doubly challenging in a Duterte presidency considering the incoming head of state’s irreverent nature, lack of patience for formalities and protocol and penchant for profanity.
The most important foreign relations issue for the incoming administration is China. The decision of the Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Commission on the Law of the Sea on the case filed by the Philippines to declare illegal China’s all encompassing nine-dash-line map is expected to be handed down in the next few weeks.
It is expected that China would do something to strengthen its claim of almost the whole of South China Sea whatever the UN Tribunal decision would be. Already, china has expanded its occupation of the disputed features in Spratlys by reclamation and building of what looks like military facilities.
From the statements of Duterte on the China issue, it’s apparent that there are many aspects of the conflict that he doesn’t understand.
In an election day press conference, Duterte said China should respect the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone granted to coastal states under international law and should team up with the Philippines to jointly exploit offshore oil and gas.
Reuters quoted Duterte as saying, “I would say to China, ‘do not claim anything here and I will not insist also that it is ours’. But then I will just keep (turn) a blind eye…If you want joint ventures, fine, we can get the gas and the oil.I believe in sharing.”
Maybe Duterte is not aware that a joint exploration project with China and Vietnam was undertaken by Gloria Arroyo in 2004 in a project titled Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU).
The legality of the JMSU has been questioned before the Supreme Court.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has said in his lectures on the South China Sea, said joint development of the Spratlys with China is not possible without violating the Constitution.
Carpio said, “China’s offer of joint development in the Spratlys has one pre-condition – that the other state concedes to China indisputable sovereignty over the Spratlys.”
Carpio pointed out that the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) is part of Philippine national territory as defined in the Philippine Baselines Law (RA No. 3046, as amended by RA No. 5446 and RA No. 9522) and in Article 1 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution on the National Territory.
“Any President who concedes sovereignty over the KIG to China culpably violates the Constitution and commits an impeachable act,” he said.
Carpio also underscored Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution that mandates the “State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its xxx exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”
“Conceding to China sovereignty over the Spratlys, whose surrounding waters facing Palawan form part of the Philippines’ EEZ, or even just allowing China to use and enjoy the Philippines’ marine wealth in these waters, violates Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution. Any President who violates this constitutional provision commits an impeachable act,” Carpio said.
But one idea of Duterte that could improve Philippine-China relations which has dipped to its lowest under the Aquino administration is his willingness to talk with China bilaterally, something that President Aquino shunned saying that the Philippines needs the help of allies in the conflict against the economic giant China.
Diplomats critical of the Aquino government’s position argue that in negotiations, the size of the country does not matter. It depends on the country’s quality of negotiators.
The conflict over Scarborough Shoal, 124 nautical miles from Zambales, is between the Philippines and China and does not involve other countries who are claimants of parts of Spratlys in the South China Sea. That can be a subject of bilateral talks.
Reuters also reported that Duterte plans to call a summit on the South China Sea among claimants -Philppines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan plus the United States, Japan and Australia.
He should be told that every year Spratlys claimant countries including other members of ASEAN and other dialogue partners like Korea and Russia meet during the East Asia summit, following the ASEAN summit. The South China Sea is always in the agenda.
Duterte will be attending that summit as Philippine president.