Wenceslao: Asean statement

THE controversy over the final communique, called the Chairman’s Statement, released a day after the close of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit hosted by the Philippines last week reminds me of the complaint we make every time the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB) decides on proposed wage hikes. Government representatives in the Board are often seen as acting as spokespersons of employers.

The 25-page statement issued by President Rodrigo Duterte, this year’s Asean chairman, was supposedly a watered down version of the draft that the Philippines circulated earlier. The statement dropped any mention of supposed international concerns over China’s militarization of the islands it built in the South China Sea and of the Philippines’ landmark victory over China in the case it filed with the Arbitral Tribunal on the West Philippine Sea territorial dispute.

The Philippines has denied China tried to influence the crafting of the statement but considering its hold on some Asean member countries, including the Duterte administration, that eventually was no longer necessary. During the time of former president Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines pushed for a tougher stance against China on the South China Sea dispute only to be pushed back by pro-Beijing countries like Cambodia and Laos.

The wording of the final communique must have been a turnoff for other Asean member states that have overlapping claims with China over the South China Sea like Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Some of them reportedly pushed for a stronger statement against China’s designs in the disputed territory. But times have changed so that we are even now hearing plans of Philippines-China joint military exercises.

Which brings me back to what I said about the tendency of some of our government officials to be more popish than the Pope. In the RTWPB, for example, it is often officials of such government agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) that mouths the employers’ opposition to labor sector-proposed wage hikes.

I heard that same complaint before from consumers groups that opposed in the past hikes in the prices of gasoline approved by the Department of Energy (DOE). Listen to the justifications made by DOE officials and you feel like it could have been presented instead by oil companies. In short, China may not have tried to influence the crafting of the Asean statement, but it no longer needed to because of the presence in that regional grouping of some China defenders.

Which means that the biggest gainer there is China and its effort to blunt the Arbitral Tribunal ruling that upheld our claim to a part of the South China Sea. Conversely, the Philippines can be considered losers because its triumph in the Arbitral Tribunal has been effectively blunted—although that loss is actually self-inflicted. Because of this, expect those countries who are willing to support us in the territorial dispute to back off also.

Kita ganing hingtungdan dili man makigbisog, sila na nuon?
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