Expert tells Aquino: Put PH foreign policy in order

Kim Arveen Patria
Kim Arveen Patria
Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom

The Philippines' territorial disputes with China and Malaysia are both jeopardized by the government's failure to pull its act together in terms of foreign policy, a veteran diplomat said.

Former Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja, Jr. on Tuesday urged President Benigno Aquino III to put his foreign policy house in order.

"Clear, coherent, agile and effective foreign policies," Baja said, will save the country from "humiliations" in the international community.

Related story: Malaysia charges Filipinos with terror, waging war

This, as he noted that recent territorial disputes over Sabah and the West Philippine Sea show "the serendipitous way we conduct our foreign relations."

"We say and do what we shouldn't and we don't say and do what we should," Baja said at a forum dubbed "The Sulu-Sabah Connection" at the University of the Philippines Asian Center in Quezon City.

"This state of affairs is infectious," Baja added.

The veteran diplomat particularly urged caution in public pronouncements, which he said may put the Philippines at a disadvantage.

"Let's not telegraph our position," Baja said, as he expressed alarm over the President's criticism of the Sulu Sultanate's action on Sabah.

"We must protect our citizens first before we prosecute them for their faults," Baja said.

"There is no duty as sacred and noble for any leader to protect lives, property and the rights of his people," he added.

Also read: Aquino calls for talks on Sabah

The basis for the Philippine claim for Sabah still holds, Baja said, even as he said that this has been "left at the margins of our foreign policy."

Malaysia, he added, took advantage of the hiatus in the Philippines' pursuit of its claim.

As for the deadly standoff between followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Malaysia forces, Baja blamed several government failures.

Failure with intelligence, he said, was highlighted by the President's claims that individuals contrived the Sabah conspiracy with the Sulu Sultanate to derail the Mindanao peace process.

"If there was indeed a conspiracy, why was the government not able to nip it in the bud?" Baja said.

He also hit the President for lack of statesmanship, as seen in his inability to talk the Sulu Sultanate into asking his followers to come home.

Related story: 'Hit squad' out to kill Kirams, says Sulu Sultan daughter

Baja claimed that the Philippines "allowed Malaysia to take dominant control of the situation" and issued "confused" and "paranoid" statements.

Even access to detained prisoners has been denied by Malaysia, an act which Baja said contradicts UN conventions on consular affairs.

"In the bible, we are only told to turn our cheek once. But it seems that we are giving our cheek too often," the veteran diplomat said.

The Aquino administration should not give up on Sabah, with Baja noting that "no government has the right to renounce a claim forever."

Although the Philippines would risk losing, the veteran diplomat said it is better than to not have pursued at all.

"We may be able to attain some strategic space in the process, even if eventually we may lose," Baja said.

He added: "It is time to reach for an edifying moment when we can say on Sabah: This land is ours."