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THE Philippine Diplomacy’s 123


 Modern Philippine diplomacy was born in the crucible of revolution. On June 12, 1898, the First Philippine Republic was established in Kawit, Cavite, while Filipino revolutionaries pressed against the last Spanish holdout in the Far East, Intramuros, the Walled City.

    The Republic’s President, General Emilio Aguinaldo, would send a 39-year old lawyer, Felipe Agoncillo, on a daunting diplomatic mission to the United States and Europe to secure recognition for the fledgling Republic. THE FIRST FILIPINO DIPLOMAT Agoncillo was trained in the best of European legal traditions. It was no surprise that he could argue in the language of the international law of the time.

     But President William McKinley would only receive him in a private capacity at the White House. It confirmed Agoncillo’s early suspicions that the Americans, who had earlier declared support for the Filipino revolutionaries in their fight against Spain, were not to be trusted. By then, the Americans and the Spaniards had already reached a secret agreement to exclude Filipinos from negotiations for the colony’s future.

     Agoncillo would write a series of diplomatic notes addressed to the US Senate, the US State Department, and to the American and Spanish peace negotiators in Paris. These were all ignored by imperialist and racist imperatives unwilling to recognize the new Philippine Republic.


     THE Philippine Diplomacy’s 123 BY ATTY. ROMEL REGALADO BAGARES* 50 YEARS OF AMERICAN TUTELAGE On December 8, 1898, the American and Spanish governments signed the Treaty of Paris (TOP), in which the latter ceded the Philippines to the former for US$20 million.

     The next half century would see the Philippines under forced colonial tutelage. American rule gradually introduced Filipinos, in the words to McKinley’s Instructions, to “certain great principles of government” that were “essential to the rule of law and the maintenance of individual freedom.”

     The better part of such education would be spent by the Philippines as an unincorporated territory under an American flag severed from the American constitution. In 1934, the US Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which declared that upon the planned grant of Philippine Independence in 1946, the Republic of the Philippines shall have jurisdiction, control, authority and sovereignty over “all territory….the boundaries of which are set forth in Article II of the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898, together with those islands embraced in the treaty between Spain and the [US], concluded at Washington on the 7th day of November, 1900.” Yet the following year, while drafting the 1935 Constitution under American tutelage, Filipino constitutionalists made sure to re-state into it the metes and bounds of the TOP regime as integral to national territory.

     Delegate Vicente Singson Encarnacion, the principal sponsor of the National Territory Provision (NTP), argued

that it had become necessary to embody the International Treaty Limits (ITL) in the Constitution as well and transform it into a binding international instrument, because, according to him, the Americans cannot be trusted to honor their word; after all the world then only knew an international law founded on “la fuerza de los cañones.” Thus, a colonial document was transformed by the Philippine colony into an anti-imperialist tool.


     In late 1945, towards the closing stages of the World War II, a Filipino delegation led by Carlos P. Romulo, participated in the drafting of the United Nations (UN) Charter. Along with India, a colony of the British empire, the Philippines was allowed to take part in the founding of a new international organization that, it was hoped, would usher and shepherd nations under a new era of lasting peace.

     At the UN Charter discussions, Romulo and other Filipinos delegates fought for the recognition of the right to self-determination in the founding document. Just as well, because the very next year, on July 4, 1946, the Philippines would be granted independence by the US pursuant to the Tydings-McDuffie Act. In preparation for that, the US State Department organized the Philippine Foreign Affairs Training Program to formally train the first groups of Filipinos in post-independence diplomatic and consular work.

     The brainchild of Edward W. Mill, it selected the first 40 Filipinos to serve for the diplomatic corps of an independent Republic of the Philippines under a new Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

     This founding corps of post-independence Filipino diplomats would serve the DFA well. In 1950, Filipino diplomat and lawyer Jose Ingles argued in advisory opinion proceedings before the international Court of Justice in favor of UN supervision of South Africa’s trusteeship over South West Africa.

     The diminutive Romulo would cut a giant figure in the next decade in world diplomacy. He stood tall in the campaign for the drafting of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948.

     He served the UN General Assembly as president from 1949 to 1950 and as chair of the UN Security Council in 1957.


      Any discussion of Romulo’s legacy would not be complete without a careful look at his role in the pathbreaking April 18-24, 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia.     

     Bandung is recognized as an anti-colonialist gathering of decolonized or decolonizing states that paved the way for the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. Bandung enshrined the power of the hitherto impossible— the “Spirit of Bandung” that challenged for the very first time the well-entrenched imperialism in the international legal order. Romulo, with Lebanese diplomat Charles Malik, appeared on the scene not only as an anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist advocate, but also as one of the loudest voices at Bandung for the universality of human rights.

     The two of them successfully fought, over vociferous Chinese objections, for the inclusion of firm language in the Conference’s Final Communique that substantively acknowledged the UDHR as a founding document for a new international legal order.

     The historical records show that at Bandung, Romulo sought a “dual negation” of the dominance of the First and the Second Worlds, and the condemnation of all forms of colonialism and deprivation of civil and political rights, whether in the East or in the West. This, despite Romulo’s creds as a true-blue American ally in the context of a deepening Cold War. In his own account of Bandung, he documented having tangled with China’s Zhou En Lai, who argued that there is only one colonialism that must be spurned by everyone—that of the West. In the end, as the Final Communique would put it, Bandung radically redefined colonialism, affirming that “alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of human rights.”

     Around the same time, the Philippines also began articulating a vision of national territorial sovereignty ironically founded on the legacy of the Treaty of Paris’ ITL.

     Following the 1935 Constitution, the DFA would seek the international community’s recognition of the country as the world’s lone mid-ocean archipelago with its own unique set of maritime security needs. Indeed, for the next seven decades, this was one of the few non-negotiables of Philippine foreign policy, through such issues as Parity Rights, the long presence of US Military Bases and Philippine dependence on American military might for its external defense, and the rise of the Communist movement in Asia, among many others.


     Our fine diplomats would struggle hard well into the 1980s for full recognition of the country’s sui generis view of the emerging Law of the Sea, even against the position taken by the former American colonizers. By the 1960s, the Philippines was one of the newly independent states that headlined a successful campaign to establish mechanisms to implement the promises of the UDHR. In fact, within three years of its drafting, the Philippine Supreme Court would rule in two landmark cases that its provisions were binding norms of customary international law. With colleagues from Jamaica, Liberia, Ghana, and Costa Rica, Filipino diplomats, especially Salvador S.P. Lopez, worked at the UN to establish mechanisms to implement an International Bill of Rights. They argued that protections already enjoyed by citizens of the West should likewise be granted to the citizens of the newly-decolonized states.

     These mechanisms—such as the UN Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—transcended state sovereignty and provided the foundations for the universal promotion of human rights.

     A noted literary writer and Romulo protégé, Lopez was instrumental in the creation of the ICCPR’s individual complaints mechanism. Through this mechanism, citizens can take their governments to task for failing to carry out their obligations under the covenant. Such a distinguished history is difficult to square with the present dispensation’s claims that human rights is being weaponized against the country’s right to self-determination.

     For the diplomats of the Philippine diplomacy’s golden era, such self-determination cannot be divorced from respect for the universality of human rights.

     As our part of the world turned inward and, in Leon Ma. Guerrero’s fine phrase, sought an “Asia for Asians,” Lopez, an old-school liberal, would also pave the way for a more cosmopolitan approach to Philippine foreign policy.

     He would eventually succeed Romulo as Secretary of Foreign Affairs and later follow his mentor to the University of the Philippines (UP), where he served as a short-lived but well-loved presidency as the state university was plunged into the great societal upheavals of the 1970s. But Martial Law under the late strongman former President Ferdinand E. Marcos would sever his old ties with Romulo; his mentor, almost to the very end, served Marcos without hesitation, even despite undeniable violations of gross human rights committed under his administration.


     Perhaps, one of Romulo’s enduring legacies cemented late in his foreign affairs career was his role in the drafting of the Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes.

     The Declaration was pushed by member-states of the Non-Alignment Movement, namely Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Romania, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and the Philippines. Its initial draft, at Romulo’s instance, was crafted by the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization which met in Manila.

     The final form was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly by consensus on November 15, 1982 through resolution A/RES/37/10 or the Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes. “For the first time,” writes an international legal scholar of the Manila Declaration, “a normative text develops a comprehensive plan and a consolidation of the legal framework of peaceful settlement of international disputes.”

     The Philippines’ resolve to follow the Manila Declaration’s principles would be tested soon enough. Following the ouster of Marcos from power in 1986, as well as the termination of the US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement in 1991, the Philippines would be confronted with the rise of a neighbor—the People’s Republic of China—as a New Great Power. China began to flex its military muscle, powered by unprecedented economic progress. Pursuing its nine-dash line claim, it would encroach on much of the South China Sea, including maritime territories held or claimed by the Philippines.

     In 2012, a standoff between the Philippines and China over the Bajo De Masinloc (Scarborogh Shoal), a rocky outcrop about 124 nautical miles west of the coast of Zambales, led the Philippines to pursue an arbitral case under the compulsory dispute settlement mechanism of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In July 2016, the UNCLOS Tribunal handed down an Award that essentially won for the Philippines all of the points it had raised against China, which had opted for a strategy of non-participation in the proceedings. It held that China’s nine dash-line claim to the living and non-living resources in the South China Sea actually consists of “a constellation of historic rights short of title” that is “incompatible with the Convention to the extent that it exceeds the limits of China’s maritime zones as provided for by the Convention.” Such a victory, however, entailed the abandonment by the Philippines of its long-held constitutional position that the expanse of its maritime territories are governed by the Treaty of Paris regime. Its reverberations continue to be felt today. 

     Atty. Romel Regalado Bagares has Communication and Law degrees from the University of the Philippines and a master’s degree from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He teaches International Law in two Manila law schools.

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