Former Philippine Ambassador to United States Jose Cuisia on Sunday said it was “duplicitous and deceitful” on the part of China to renege on the 2012 agreement between Beijing and Manila in withdrawing from Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
This was despite an agreement, brokered by the United States, that both parties would simultaneously pull out their ships to ease the tension arising from the standoff over the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
Cuisia also urged the Philippines to continuously put pressure on China through the United Nations General Assembly, saying a unilateral diplomatic “protest is futile.”
The former envoy also said the Philippines must have joint sovereignty patrols with US forces and other friendly countries, as our military force is not enough to “confront” China.
Meanwhile, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said the Philippines could take several diplomatic options to keep the pressure on China, which his successor Teodoro Locsin Jr. “must have evaluated” by now.
The options, Del Rosario said, include the following:
The government must anticipate that China will continue their plan to remain in large numbers in the WPS. This will be a constant for China in moving forward its expansionist policy.
The government must have prepared a strategic plan internationalizing the WPS issues.
The government must work closely with like-minded nations.
The government country must have formulated a menu of things to do and how to calibrate them. One possible action to calibrate subsequent actions is to inform formally the United Nations through the Secretary General.
The government must have converted the forms of our diplomatic notes into demarches which are pointed, direct and purposive.
The government must plan for bringing our case to the UN General Assembly in September to seek the support of responsible nations to compel China to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal Outcome.
The government had summoned the Chinese Ambassador several weeks ago.
The government can recall the Ambassador to Beijing if further action is desired.
The government can furthermore consider instructing our service posts to visit their host government to explain what is happening with China.
The government can also consider declaring specific Chinese official(s) as persona non grata (such as intelligence personnel or the spokesperson).
Cuisia revealed that US officials had confirmed to him that China had agreed to do the simultaneous withdrawal, and that they expected Beijing to abide by the agreement.
“We had an agreement with China brokered by the United States, particularly Assistant Secretary [Kurt] Campbell that we will simultaneously withdraw ships from the Scarborough Shoal. It is China who breached the agreement as [former DFA] Secretary [Albert] del Rosario said China is to blame for that because we acted in good faith,” Cuisia said, in an interview with GMA News Online.
“The US confirmed to me that China agreed to the simultaneous withdrawal on a certain date. However, the Philippine ships withdrew and they (China) did not. And we expected China to act in good faith to the simultaneous withdrawal of our ships that was supposed to be on June 15 (in 2012),” he added.
Cuisia said that despite what transpired, he was puzzled why President Rodrigo Duterte would come to China’s defense despite its failure to abide by the 2012 agreement.
“Why is he (Duterte) defending the Chinese? Isn’t he the Philippine President?” he said.
Duterte, who considers China the Philippines’ “good friend,” claimed that Chinese President Xi Jinping told him it was former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio and Del Rosario who gave up the islands to China.
The former envoy also recalled they created the agreement to protect the lives of Filipino soldiers, whose ships were outnumbered by China’s during the standoff in the disputed waters.
“We were afraid that we will lose Filipino lives. Filipinos’ lives are important to us. We wanted to ease the tensions, we wanted to avoid confrontation between Chinese forces and Filipino forces,” Cuisia noted.
“We have no chance if China and the Philippines had an encounter,” he said.
Nonetheless, Cuisia justified the need for the agreement with China because they were trying to avoid an incident such as the clash between Vietnam and China at the Paracel Islands where more than 70 members of Vietnam’s military died.
“Why would we withdraw? We wanted to save lives. We saw what has happened to China and Vietnam,” Cuisia stressed.
Duterte also claimed the US was all talk as it failed to assist Philippines in defending its territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.
However, Cuisia said the US was ready to help the Philippines protect its sovereignty, adding that it would also avoid violent attacks between the two Asian nations.
“US is ready to help. They were there, they were ready of course. They wanted to avoid heavy and violent clashes with the Chinese. If we were attacked, I’m sure the US will come to our defense,” he said.
“What the President (Duterte) is saying is, of course, hypothetical, but the US wanted to avoid a violent clash,” Cuisia added.
He also noted that Duterte did not follow up at the UN General Assembly when he made the statement invoking the Philippines’ victory in the 2016 arbitral ruling.
Cuisia underscored that putting pressure on China through the UNGA is needed because diplomatic protests are futile, since China just dumps them in the “wastebasket.”
“They ignored this (diplomatic protests), we have to go to United Nations and make our case and get support from all the countries who respect the rule of law,” he said.
In doing so, Cuisia observed that “China looks like an international rogue country that is not respecting the international law.”
Cuisia also recalled that the Aquino administration had filed about 60 diplomatic protests against China.
He urged Duterte to “not squander” the 2016 arbitral victory, which invalidated China’s massive claims over the South China Sea.
“Both China and Philippines are members of UNCLOS, so China is supposed to respect that arbitral ruling, yet our own President squanders the victory away, which is unfortunate,” he pointed out.
“He is our President, he should not be squandering away our victory [over] China,” he added.
In his previous Talk to the Nation, Duterte downplayed the country’s 2016 arbitral win over China, saying it is a scrap of paper fit to be thrown in the trash.
Previously, Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque claimed that the continued Chinese presence in disputed waters will not invalidate the Philippines’ legal claims in the West Philippine Sea.
But Cuisia told GMA News: “It would be more effective if we have joint patrols with US and other countries that have offered to assist the Philippines. We don’t have military capability to confront China.”
The Philippines must request the United States in conducting joint patrols to defend country’s territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea, which Chinese vessels continue to occupy.
“China will be more careful if they see that we have joint patrols with the US. We have been suggesting this since 2015. If our country is not willing to make that request, of course, the US cannot do that,” Cuisia said.
He noted that Philippine defense department must ask consent from Duterte before asking for joint patrols with US.
Moreover, he suggested that Japan and Australia may also help the Philippines when conducting military patrols in Philippine territorial waters.
Likewise, Cuisia raised the point that the joint military exercises between US and Philippines should be continued, which was limited during the pandemic.
In 2020, the United States-Philippine military exercises or “Balikatan” were suspended to prioritize government’s efforts to avert the spread of COVID-19.