[OPINION] The world according to Rodolfo Severino

Jun Abad
[OPINION] The world according to Rodolfo Severino
Severino will be remembered as a great Filipino statesman in the tradition of those who served their homeland well by serving the world of nations

Many know Ambassador Rod Severino as a Filipino diplomat. Some of us know him as a global diplomat. I am privileged to be among those few who worked and observed him very closely as his special assistant and communications director when he was secretary-general of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations) for 5 years in Jakarta. 

That assignment gave him an opportunity to shape the issues and influence the flow of events in our part of the world, even as they also influenced him to think beyond his country.

“Communicate or perish.” This was his consistent marching order to various ASEAN bodies and his staff at the ASEAN headquarters. He truly believed that ASEAN had a story to tell that would benefit not only the region, but all countries and multinational companies who chose to engage it.

He believed that ASEAN had a good brand of “open regionalism” that, with the right amount of support from its members, neighbors, friends, and the media around the world, could make a real difference in the relations among nations and a great impact on our lives.

Severino led ASEAN at a time of major challenges: the Asian financial contagion, series of terrorist attacks from New York to Bali, the spread of bird flu, and the raging forest fires that caused transboundary haze pollution, among others.

These serious challenges highlighted Severino’s view of the world as interdependent and interconnected. This sharpened his message that the world needed more international understanding and cooperation.


Severino also came at a time of great opportunities. The Asean Free Trade Area project was in full swing. Severino championed regional integration as a means for the 10 ASEAN economies to have a voice and credibility in shaping the kind of globalization that we wanted.


A regional security forum had just been established following the end of the Cold War. Until now, it is the only official multilateral forum dedicated to addressing political and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. He believed that between bilateral and international relations, regionalism is just as important.

“It is past the time for platitudes.” Severino made this remark about 20 years ago at that regional security forum participated in by about two dozen countries, including the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. He was referring to the repeated motherhood pronouncements of several countries wanting to set aside differences and finding common ground in the South China Sea.

In time, ASEAN called on all parties to the overlapping claims to forge a legally-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea. But not all of them were ready. Severino was quietly disappointed when ASEAN and China adopted only a political statement.

 YALE. The author (right) with Rodolfo Severino at Yale University’s Center for the Study of Globalization where the latter delivered a lecture before students of international relations.


He wanted to see a binding commitment that would lead to negotiations toward eventually settling the disputes building on the content of the Philippine-Vietnam joint statement that he earlier negotiated. Nevertheless, he considered it a step in the right direction that China took cognizance of the disputes.

He was no longer active in the policy circle when a United Nations tribunal accepted, heard, and decided the case brought before it by the Philippines. I have no doubt that he welcomed it, not just because of the decision, but also because of the use of peaceful means in dispute settlement.

The world according to Severino is a stage full of opportunities accompanied by never-ending issues, disputes, competition and challenges. It is a world with many voices competing for attention by important decision-makers, public support, the mainstream media, and today’s virtual social media.

Whoever captures their attention and imagination has a better chance of winning the issues of the day and the shape of tomorrow.

The world according to Severino is a world that we make of it. That community-building is possible beyond our shores. That dialogue, cooperation, and norms-building have transformative value among peoples and nations. He wove this into his realist worldview that, in politics among nations, the use and pursuit of power is a given.

Severino will be remembered as a great Filipino statesman in the tradition of those who served their homeland well by serving the world of nations. – Rappler.com


*The author is a former director at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta and the author of The Philippines in ASEAN (Manila: Anvil, 2011).

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