July 19, 2018, 12:02 am
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Bravo, Secretary Cayetano!

I would be less than candid if I did not admit I was pleasantly surprised at what Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano reportedly said last week in a press briefing about PH-US relations in particular and our foreign policy in general.
 “That’s the point of the independent foreign policy.  In areas where we share common interests, we’re together.  But in areas where our interests clash, don’t expect us just to say yes.  We have to start defining very clearly what our interests are and who will help us in those interests”, Cayetano said.
Surprised, because I thought I would never see the day when a Philippine foreign secretary would utter such words that now clearly define the basis of our relationship with the US and, indeed, with all other countries, including China and Russia.
Of course, Cayetano was merely echoing the independent foreign policy already set in motion by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte aka Digong.
Cayetano was briefing the press on the proposed joint exploration and development agreement with China which has drawn criticism from the usual suspects. 
He said, among others, that not a “single inch” of Philippine territory would be lost in case the deal materializes; that any deal would be in conformity with our Constitution and laws; and that any future deals would be more beneficial to the Philippines than the agreement on the Malampaya development.
Speaking of the Malampaya development, I understand that 45 percent of it is owned by Chevron and another 45 percent by Shell.  Only 10 percent is owned by the Philippine Government.  If this is true till today, then the agreement is clearly not in accord with the relevant constitutional provision/s. 
Yet, interestingly, Cayetano pointed out that the joint venture was approved by the Supreme Court.
Cayetano also said during the press briefing that the Philippines would consult first with individual ASEAN members  before taking action on the joint venture proposal.
He likewise took the occasion to criticize the US for “making it appear it was totally supporting the Philippines’ position on the South China Sea maritime dispute”.
 “Do not pretend that you’re protecting the Philippines. You’re protecting your interest,” he said.
He then cited the unequivocal support given by the US to Japan on the latter’s dispute with China over the Senkaku islands.  In contrast, the US has said it is neutral on the territorial dispute we have with China.  How can she stay neutral when, for instance, Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal is within the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines?
 “So they (US) can’t keep telling us what to do as far as our strategy is concerned when sila mismo hindi signatory (to UNCLOS) and sila mismo na treaty ally natin is not ready to give us the same guarantees that they are giving to Japan,” Cayetano said.
I believe our diplomatic representation in Washington and the relevant agencies would be well-advised to absorb and digest everything that Cayetano has said.

Bravo, Mr. Secretary!
***
Oh, by the way, my dear friend and former DFA colleague Ben Hur Ong asked me if I noticed “the sudden avalanche of goodies from the US, with more to come – including and specially all three Balangiga bells?  Might appear to be too good to be true, but hey, why should I object.” 
Right on, Ben!  I think you and I know to what we may attribute the apparent change in the US attitude towards us.  Right again, Ben – Digong’s shift to an independent foreign policy!
***
For a number of years, this space has been taking up the cudgels for DFA officials and staff who have complained to me about being inconvenienced by the closure of the service road in front of the Seafront compound of the US Embassy on the eastern side of Roxas Boulevard.
For reasons that could only be attributed to the “reticence” of concerned DFA officials from the secretary down, no serious action had been taken on the complaint.  A common excuse was that it was the Pasay City government that should be the one to take action.  Another stock reply was, “mahirap, US Embassy ‘yan!”  Garbage!
Last week, the road was finally re-opened for the motoring public.  Bakit?  US Embassy pa rin ‘yun, ah? 
Without a doubt, it is because of Digong’s policy on how we should deal with matters involving foreign countries, not only the US.  We should start asserting ourselves as an independent and sovereign nation, especially on our own turf. 
And, I like to believe, the present generation of Foreign Service Officers who have now assumed positions of responsibility in the DFA are better “enlightened” and more assertive at promoting and protecting the national interest, inspired no doubt by Digong’s example.

ASEAN AT 50
In exactly one week’s time, Asean will be celebrating its fifty years of existence.
It was on 8 August 1967 when the so-called Bangkok Declaration was officially promulgated in the Thai capital, thus giving birth to the Association.
But actually, the Declaration was negotiated and finally approved on 6 August 1967 in Bang-saen, a beach resort south of Bangkok, by the foreign ministers of the original five members.  They were Adam Malik of Indonesia, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, Narciso Ramos of the Philippines, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore and Thanat Khoman of Thailand.
 (I was then assigned at the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok as a staff employee.  I was the lone secretariat member of the Philippine Delegation.  I had to lug an Underwood typewriter.  Also, for lack of sufficient hotel accommodations, I had to sleep on the floor of the suite assigned to Secretary Ramos – with his kind consent, of course.)
After they reached final agreement on the declaration on August 6, the ministers repaired to Bangkok.  Two days later, the Bangkok Declaration was signed.
 (Note:  I tailed the official motorcade in my own car on the return trip to Bangkok with my dear friend Nestor Mata as passenger.  He covered the meetings in Bang-saen.  As I was not supposed to be in the official motorcade, the police escort cut me off.  Nestor and I nearly fell into a “klong” [canal] on the side of the road.) 
After I took Nestor to his hotel, I went home only to find out that my wife was in the hospital.  She had given birth to our third boy a few hours before.
Happy 50th birthday to Asean!  And, coincidentally, to my third son, Reggie!
***
Today is the 95th day of the eleventh year of the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos, son of the late press icon and founder of this newspaper.
The family and friends of Jonas hope that the Duterte administration will exert serious efforts to find and haul the perpetrators of Jonas’ disappearance to justice.
***
From an internet friend:
Outside a pharmacy in a busy street, a poor man is clutching onto a pole for dear life, not breathing, not moving, not twitching a muscle, just standing there, frozen. 
The pharmacist goes up to his assistant and asks: “What’s the matter with that guy? Wasn’t he in here earlier?”
Assistant replies: “Yes he was. He had the most terrible cough and none of my prescriptions seemed to help.”
Pharmacist says: “He seems to be fine now.”
Assistant replies: “Sure, he does. I gave him a box of the strongest laxatives on the market. Now he won’t dare cough!”
***
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