The thinking trigger

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Monday the country has banned all foreign marine survey ships—including those from China—from entering the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, only to take the order back later.

Secretary Locsin’s initial statement, as often is the case, came by way of a post on his official Twitter page, and bore his inimitable imperious imprint.

“I banned marine survey ships, amending restriction to France & Japan by adding China,” the secretary declared, eschewing the editorial “we” that would be far more appropriate for a major government action, such as a ban on maritime traffic.

The secretary’s remarks came on the heels of reports earlier this month that Chinese oceanographic survey ships Zhanjian and Dong Fang Hong 3 have been conducting marine scientific research in the country's EEZ.

In his previous tweets, the secretary makes no secret of the key role he believes he plays.

“When it comes to national security, I am the thinking trigger; the finger is the Commander-in-Chief and the Armed Forces which are the protector of people and state," Locsin tweeted.

One problem with this tweet-from-the-hip approach is that sometimes he gets it wrong. Shortly after announcing the ban, for example, Locsin admitted that the country may not ban marine surveys after all, under the terms of the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea. The most it can do is demand that the surveying parties seek permission.

The secretary’s bold statements are nonetheless welcome, particularly to those among the public that feel China has been pushing us around long enough in the West Philippine Sea, and that the national leadership has been soft on Beijing.

But here’s the rub. The secretary’s statements are often at odds with the actions of President Rodrigo Duterte when it comes to China.

For example, when the President revealed that he had a verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016 that China would no longer block Filipino fishermen from the Chinese-occupied Scarborough Shoal as long as their vessels would be allowed to fish in Recto Bank, Locsin said this did not constitute a national policy.

The verbal agreement, which would in effect allow the Chinese to exploit the country’s EEZ, was unenforceable, Locsin said. “You need a document to prove an agreement...”

That view went directly against the Palace position that the verbal agreement was legally binding.

There was word of honor among the heads of state, said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, who also serves as the President’s chief legal counsel.

“Even if the agreement is verbal, it is valid and binding as long as there is mutual consent among the two parties,” he added in Filipino.

In the real world that exists outside of Twitter, what does the “thinking trigger” do in matters of national security, when his boss gives him the finger?

Topics: Editorial , The thinking trigger , Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. , foreign marine survey ships , exclusive economic zone
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