THE GOVERNMENT Saturday defended Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. from stinging criticism he did not fight for the inclusion of an international tribunal’s ruling favoring the Philippines over China in the final document of a recently held Southeast Asian foreign ministers meeting in Laos.
Outgoing envoy to the United States Jose Cuisia and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had both expressed dismay at Yasay, who they said did not push his peers at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) hard enough to include Manila’s position in their final joint communiqué.
But peace process adviser Jesus Dureza, a senior aide to President Duterte, said he believed the country’s position had not been weakened by the perceived diplomatic misstep, saying both Cuisia’s and Del Rosario’s observations were misplaced.
Dureza said their criticism of Yasay appeared to have been “knee-jerk” reactions, and that both seemed to have acted as “kibitzers.”
“I think it’s very unfair and I expected better from these two gentlemen that before they publicly criticized the incumbent secretary of foreign affairs of President Duterte, they could have done due diligence to find out what was the real position of the government,” Dureza told state-broadcaster Radyo ng Bayan.
He said both men were “seasoned diplomats” who should have at least sought an audience with Yasay before criticizing him.
Dureza said the diplomats knew very well that the regional bloc’s statements had to be approved unanimously by all member states. An objection from even just one member could prevent the issuance of a statement, he said, alluding to the 2012 Asean meeting in Cambodia where the group failed to issue a statement for the first time in its history.
Had Cuisia and Del Rosario closely studied the recent Asean statement, they would have seen that it “did not in any way weaken the legal foundation of our claim,” he said.
“On the contrary, the statement, from my assessment, was a resounding diplomatic triumph that enabled Asean to join our traditional partners or allies and the international [community] in urging China to uphold and give respect to the processes under the Unclos (United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea) in resolving the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea issue,” Dureza said.
The statement “implicitly” called for respect for the ruling, Dureza said, as he lashed out at Cuisia over the latter’s observation of the current secretary’s supposedly “glum demeanor” when he announced the Philippines had won its arbitral case.
‘I did my job’
“He was viewing all this from perception without going to see and finding out what is the real position of this present government in relation to China and in relation to the arbitral ruling of the United Nations,” he said.
For his part, Yasay maintained Saturday that he did his job and rallied Asean support for the Philippines’ case against China.
“The united statement and joint communiqué of Asean as worded did not in any way weaken the legal foundations of our claim and the award given to us by the arbitral tribunal,” Yasay in a text message to the Inquirer.
The chief diplomat said “the [Asean] statement was a resounding diplomatic triumph.”
He said the Asean document rallied support from the international community in urging China to uphold international law and respect the mechanisms under the Unclos to settle sea disputes.
The statement “has implicitly called for respect of the Ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal,” Yasay said.