As chief of the Department of Foreign Affairs from 2011 to 2016, then Secretary Albert F. del Rosario advocated for the primacy of the rule of law. With this guiding principle, he became the initiator of the nation’s arbitration case against Beijing since it was filed in 2012. This case aimed at invalidating China’s historical ‘nine-dash line’ claims over the South China Sea, which obstructs Philippines’ right to operate inside its Exclusive Economic Zone.
The fight that the patriotic diplomat lead came to victory as the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands concluded that China’s claim could not be a legal basis for claiming any portion of the South China Sea.
For this big mark he left among other valuable contributions as foreign affairs chief, Mr. del Rosario — a New York University graduate — received an Honorary Degree last Sept. 25 from the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU). The Honorary Degree is one of the Traditional University Awards given to persons who reflect the university’s values through their respective fields.
During the awarding ceremony, Mr. del Rosario spoke a response that centered on the rule of law, which he believes to be “a timely and important subject.”
Rule of law in an ‘era of uncertainty’
While the rule of law shall regulate relations within a state, it must also govern international relations, especially that “among states and other international entities.” The former DFA Secretary explained in the response as published in ADMU’s official Web site, “after suffering two world wars, the international community had strived to establish international law as the bedrock foundation for the lawful governance of global affairs.”
However, as Mr. del Rosario observed, “this international order seems beset by challenges on all sides.” As an example, he pointed to the stand-off between Philippines and China. “In the South China Sea, despite our best efforts to find a peaceful and lasting resolution to our disputes that would account for the legitimate interests of all parties, we find China still obstinately acting in a contrary manner,” the diplomat said.
This apparent disorder he has seen led him to say that “we are now in a new era of uncertainty. There is now disarray in the ranks of governments. We are casting around for ways to respond in a meaningful fashion to preserve the established order, while answering the frustration and fury of many electorates.”
In order to manage this era if uncertainty, Mr. del Rosario proposed that we must understand two things. First, it is that “the Philippines has a fundamental and enduring stake in the international system,” since “[o]ver the past 20 years, we have also made profound decisions to become ever more engaged with the world in all dimensions.”
Moreover, he said we must realize “that the Philippines is not insignificant on the world stage,” since the country has been “active in global efforts to create rules for international order that would save us from a dog-eat-dog world of competing powers and naked interests.”
“The lodestone for all this effort, accomplished in various diplomatic forms,” Mr. del Rosario continued, “has been an abiding faith in the centrality of the rule of law.” For him, the rule of law must be upheld together “with other countries and all stakeholders who share a similar faith.”
Rule of law in the Arbitral Ruling
Through the arbitral case against China, the rule of law was advanced. He sees this as a giant step the country took in promoting rule of law. Mr. del Rosario explained: “By initiating and winning its South China Sea arbitral case against China on July 12, 2016, we have shown the world that our country sought to resolve a serious dispute state-to-state in its regional neighborhood solely through legal, peaceful and transparent means.”
And now that the ruling favors the Philippines, Mr. del Rosario urged that “[i]t is the prerogative and the responsibility of an incumbent Administration to decide on our Foreign Policy and to craft our diplomacy.” While pushing efforts to maintain and improve relations with other countries is definitely fine, these efforts must nevertheless be guided by the rule of law. Adhering to it is “the unifying principle that would help most in containing and eventually resolving international disputes.”
“The Rule of Law is the only principle that can transcend the interests of various jurisdictions in the sphere of international relations. If we do not adhere to the Rule of Law, then we consign our regional affairs to the clash of national interests without rules,” the diplomat highly emphasized.
As he shared in an e-mail to BusinessWorld, Mr. del Rosario wants to be remembered as a patriot after he steps down as foreign affairs secretary. As reflected by his speech that night in Ateneo, his firm stand on the rule of law — which was at the core of his foreign affairs task — will surely reflect his unwavering love for our country. — Adrian Paul B. Conoza