Foreign Affairs official explains lack of Asean agreement

MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) defended itself from accusations attributing to the Philippines the failure of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to issue a joint communiqué at the 45th Asean Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Cambodia.
In an article posted on, DFA Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio said the non-issuance of the customary joint communiqué generated considerable reactions and commentaries because it was unprecedented in the association’s 45 years of existence.
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She said many of those reactions and commentaries were based on erroneous information, and she wished to lay down the facts.
“I feel it is my duty to present to all Filipinos the efforts made by the Philippine delegation to seek the unified support of Asean to the West Philippine Sea issue, which affects not only its member countries but the region as a whole…” Basilio said.
She hopes to present the real picture during the Ministerial Meeting from the point of view of a Filipino, and in the process, correct the grave misimpressions generated by some who were not present during those meetings.
Basilio was present during the discussions in the different sessions of the Asean caucus.
Chinese spokesperson Hong Lei earlier said the Asean meeting led by Phnom Penh (Chair) yielded positive results despite its failure to produce a joint communiqué, and demonstrated the common aspiration for the countries in this region to boost regional cooperation and achieve common development.
“China will maintain its support for the building of the Asean community, and comprehensively push forward the pragmatic cooperation in all areas for mutual benefit and win-win outcome,” Hong added.
But in Basilio’s article, she enumerated 10 “fictions” generated during the regional meeting, and detailed the facts behind it.
“Fiction: There was no joint communiqué because Asean failed to agree on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, and that never before has the regional association been as strained as it is today — and much of the blame might be put on the Philippine side.”
“Fact: Asean had already agreed on the key elements of the proposed Code of Conduct on the South China Sea for discussion with China. The Philippines was successful in having its suggested main elements included to give the Code the substance it requires. The strain being felt by Asean is not attributable to the Philippines but it was reportedly due to the failure of the Chair to gain a consensus. Within the Asean framework, the Philippines needed to be resolute in giving primacy to national interest,” Basilio said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario was also accused of denouncing China’s “duplicity” and “intimidation” in the West Philippine Sea, thereby souring the mood at the meeting designed to soothe tensions.
Basilio said the “souring of the mood” was attributed by everyone who was there to the failure of Asean to issue a joint communiqué, resulting from the Chair’s (Cambodia) firm position not to reflect the recent developments in the West Philippine Sea, despite the view of the majority of the member-states that these developments impinge on the overall security of the region.
On the reference to “duplicity and intimidation,” she said the Philippines forged an agreement with a neighboring country for the simultaneous pull-out of all vessels inside the shoal, which it undertook in good faith.
However, that country that agreed to remove its barrier at the entrance of the shoal, to this day, “has not fulfilled its obligations under the agreement and has maintained its ships inside and outside the shoal, as well as its barrier, in its aim to establish effective control and jurisdiction in the shoal and surrounding waters.”
While Basilio did not name which country she was referring to, it is believed to be China, with which the Philippines had a maritime standoff over the disputed Scarborough shoal.
Contrary to allegations that Phnom Penh’s strong position against the Philippine position in the Asean is quietly shared by four other member-states – Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, Basilio said the country’s position was strongly supported by many countries, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, and even the Asean secretary-general expressed support.
She said that Singapore, in its Foreign Ministry website, even claimed that it was a blow to Asean’s credibility that “it was unable to deal with something that is happening in our neighborhood and not say something about it.”
When the ministerial meeting failed to issue a communiqué, the Philippine side allegedly accused Cambodia of doing Beijing’s bidding.
But Basilio denied making accusations to Cambodia. “We did not accuse Cambodia of doing Beijing’s bidding, choosing to remain silent; other quarters preferred not to be silent,” she said.
On the alleged walk-out of Del Rosario in one of the meetings, Basilio clarified that the DFA Secretary stayed to finish the meeting and was steadfast in promoting and defending the Philippine national interest, even when his microphone went silent when he first began to speak on the Scarborough Shoal issue.
The standoff between China and the Philippines at the Scarborough Shoal began when the Philippines accused Chinese fishermen of poaching in its exclusive economic zone, including the shoal. Both sides sent government ships to the area.
The Philippines has withdrawn its vessels from the area, but Chinese government ships have remained at the shoal, which Beijing claims to have owned since ancient times.

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