MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Ambassador-designate to China Domingo Lee has asked President Benigno Aquino III to withdraw his nomination as ambassador to China, citing his “protracted nomination process” that the country cannot afford at this time in view of standing bilateral issues with China, Malacañang said on Thursday, April 19.
Secretary Ramon Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Office (PCDSPO) said that the President granted Lee’s request.
“Mr. Lee felt that the situation would be better served if he stepped down. He is putting the interest of the country first. This is commendable and we thank him for this patriotic act,” Carandang said.
Carandang said that the letter was dated April 12, but was received by the Office of the President the following week.
Asked if the Palace is now convinced that the post is for someone who rose from the ranks, Carandang said: “Obviously there are advantages of having a career diplomat in China. There are also advantages of having someone who is politically appointive…[with] easy access to the President.”
But he said this would be up to the President and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
The bicameral Commission on Appointments has thrice rejected Lee’s appointment as ambassador to China. Sen Serge Osmeña III has questioned Lee’s credentials to be holding such a crucial position at this time.
In his previous appearances before the CA, Lee was grilled by senators on his basic knowledge of diplomacy and China.
South China Sea issues
Last March, at the start of the CA hearing, Osmeña asked Lee: “You’ve been doing a lot of reading?”
“Yes,” answered Lee.
Asked Osmeña: “Would you like to tell us, brief the committee on the issues facing the Philippines vis-à-vis China? The importance of the West Philippine Sea, why is it important to us? What are the interests of other countries aside from China?”
Lee, who struggles with English, replied that countries claiming the West Philippine Sea are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Osmeña then asked him which article of the UNCLOS China is opposing.
“They signed the UNCLOS and it was after it’s already ratified. And then they find out there’s a word not supposed to be applied,” Lee said.
Osmeña told Lee: “They named the article and they named the sub-section. I want to know if you know that. Obviously, you don’t know that.”
The next question was about the last meeting of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to discuss the West Philippine Sea issue.
“Where was it held?”
“Vietnam? Malaysia?” Lee answered.
Osmeña asked an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs present in the hearing to answer the question. The meeting was held in Cambodia, the official said.
During a CA hearing in November 2011, Lee also failed to answer many of Osmeña’s questions, including the definition of diplomacy.
On Monday, April 16, President Aquino said replacing Lee was a “distinct possibility.”
Lee, a businessman, is an old friend of the Aquinos, particularly the President’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.
The Philippines and China are caught in a prolonged standoff over Chinese incursions into the Scarborough Shoal off the coast of Zambales. The shoal is one of the disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Manila has already lodged two diplomatic protests against China. It has also asked China to submit itself to the international court; China has refused.- Rappler.com
(Below is the letter of Lee to the President, dated April 12, 2012:)
Dear President Aquino:
It is with utmost sadness that I am writing this letter to respectfully request Your Excellency that my nomination as Philippine Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China be withdrawn
I am constrained to admit the pressure form the rigors of the confirmation process in the Commission on Appointment has deeply affected by family and myself, and my familial responsibility compels me to put their interests above anything else.
It is also not lost on me that the on-going confrontation with China has gravely put much of the diplomatic work in the shoulders of Your Excellency, which should not be the case if there is, at present, an Ambassador to China.
I believe that it is my patriotic duty to advance the interests of the country that I profoundly love and allow Your Excellency a free hand in selecting a new nominee to the ambassadorial post to the People’s Republic of China.
I would like to express my fervent appreciation of the confidence that you have reposed upon me.