MANILA, Philippines – “If you study so much about China, why is it claiming the entire West Philippine Sea? Answer me in one word.”
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago endorsed the confirmation of 8 ambassadors and 87 other career diplomats but not without quizzing them on one of the major issues shaping Philippine foreign policy.
The chairperson of the Commission on Appointments’ (CA) foreign relations committee asked one appointee about the reason for China’s claim on the South China Sea and the diplomat answered “history.” Santiago said the correct answer was “resources.”
“The real interest of China is not in the fishing rights or the ownership of these little shoals and pieces of rock. Her real interest lies in economic resources in the deep-sea bed of the ocean floor,” Santiago explained to reporters after the confirmation hearing on Wednesday, March 12.
The senator was referring to the vast reserves of oil and natural gas believed to be in the South China Sea.
Despite the difference in answers, Santiago’s committee endorsed the confirmation of the diplomats, which the CA plenary approved Wednesday afternoon.
Among those confirmed was Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Spokesperson Raul Hernandez, who was appointed ambassador to South Korea. Santiago’s office said the other 7 ambassadors confirmed were:
- Bayani Mangibin, ambassador to Kenya, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwnda, Seychelles Somali, Tanzania, Uganda; and is also the permanent representative to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), and HABITAT
- Petronila P. Garcia, ambassador to Canada
- Lamberto V. Monsanto, ambassador to Kuwait
- Ma. Amelita C. Aquino, ambassador to Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay
- Antonio A. Morales, ambassador to Singapore
- Joseph Gerard B. Angeles, ambassador to South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
- Virgilio A. Reyes, ambassador to Italy, San Marino, Albania, and Malta
The other appointees were Chiefs of Mission, Classes I and II, career ministers, and Foreign Service Officers, classes I and II.
Santiago hailed the appointees for their “very good” backgrounds as career diplomats. Career diplomats pass the foreign service officers’ examination and are distinguished from political appointees.
“A career diplomat rises from the ranks. This is different from a political appointee, who is appointed to the position of ambassador, public minister, or consul, by the president at his pleasure,” Santiago said.
‘China claim bewildered legal experts’
In the interview, Santiago weighed in on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China, which Manila submitted for arbitration before the United Nations’ International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
The legal expert elected as judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said China’s 9-dash line claim has no basis in contemporary international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“For us in the international law community, we are in a state of complete and utter bewilderment on the basis of China. We don’t know how to debate her because she’s debating outside the accepted vocabulary of international law,” Santiago said.
Santiago said she wants a representative or spokesperson of China to explain the grounds for its claim of almost the entire South China Sea, whose parts are also being claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
“You cannot just uncover your own historical documents and base a claim on historical rights. Besides, that is no longer recognized by the UNCLOS to which China is a party. So I would say there is complete confusion on what China is doing because we no longer have any legal basis to proceed from.”
Santiago said China’s economic interests explained its claim on the sea, and its stance that negotiations should be done bilaterally, and not with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“That is why China keeps on insisting we must have one-on-one negotiations concerning the resources, development and exploitation of those resources within Southeast Asia. It does not accept the position of the ASEAN that there must be a collective position between China and ASEAN on the other hand. We want an ASEAN-China negotiations on these territorial claims. She’s always insisting on one-on-one because as the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall,” she said.
‘SALN issues trivial’
Besides foreign policy, Santiago asked some of the appointees questions about their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) and income tax returns.
The diplomats explained that the rise in their net worth was because of allowances they received abroad, which are not taxable.
Santiago said the appointees’ answer reaffirmed her position that government officials have sources of income other than their salary, which the public should know about.
Yet the senator did not make an issue out of the flaws in their SALNs.
“I don’t think this committee should be presented by these trivial details. Foreign deposits led to the rise in net worth. Lahat naman tayo may pagkakamali sa SALN. (All of us have mistakes in the SALN). It’s another thing if it involves the P10 billion pork barrel scam. By test of proportionality eh ang liit-liit. (The amounts here are so small.) – Rappler.com