Response from the Philippines

Tokyo

In his Aug. 2 letter, “Clarification from Cambodia,” my colleague Ambassador Hor Monirath sought to explain the 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting’s (AMM) lamentable and unprecedented nonissuance of the traditional Joint Communique.

Much as my Government wishes to defer to the Ambassador’s airing of his government’s “views and position,” the unfounded allegations and revisionist recounting of events are regrettable. We find ourselves compelled to reply in the interest of truth:

There is nothing to gain from undermining ASEAN. On the contrary, the stakes involved in preserving ASEAN unity are high, and ASEAN countries need to rally against attempts, from within or without, to undercut and divide the organization.

The Joint Communique’s proposed reference to the South China Sea was drafted by ASEAN Foreign Ministers and was repeatedly revised by a committee appointed by the Cambodian Chair himself, which included the Philippines and Vietnam.

Several ASEAN Members and the ASEAN Secretariat supported the Philippine position. In all cases, it was the Cambodian Chair — whose role should have been to recognize and build on an emerging consensus — who consistently rejected any proposed text that mentioned the Scarborough Shoal issue.

Our Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs for Policy, Mme. Erlinda F. Basilio, who was present at the 45th AMM’s negotiations on the Joint Communique, clarifies these and other related issues in an illuminating article, “Why There Was No ASEAN Joint Communique,” the text of which we have provided to The Japan Times. We invite The Japan Times’ discerning audience to read the piece on the website of the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo and to judge the matter for themselves.

The Philippines’ efforts to advance ASEAN’s discussions on the South China Sea may be rooted in national interest, but they doubtless also respond to broader questions of territorial integrity, sovereign rights, rule of law and freedom of navigation that impinge on the Asia-Pacific region’s stability and prosperity.

In 1967, ASEAN was created to represent the collective will of Southeast Asia to bind themselves in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for the region peace, freedom and prosperity.

As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations marks its 45th anniversary this week (Aug. 8), it is important that ASEAN return to these moorings, so that in unity it may address the challenges of our times.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

manuel m. lopez