Ex-DFA Sec. delivers Ateneo’s Ambassador Rodolfo C. Severino, Jr. Lecture

Differing opinions and viewpoints about the Code of Conduct (CoC) on the South China Sea were discussed and elaborated at the inaugural Ambassador Rodolfo C. Severino, Jr. Lecture of the Ateneo de Manila University.

The lecture was delivered by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and was live-streamed through Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube last August 26.

In his lecture entitled “The Code of Conduct on the South China Sea: Is it still worth pursuing?,” del Rosario underscored the immense importance of respecting the 2016 ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal in approaching any discussion about the CoC.

“What is crucial is the enforcement of the 2016 ruling, to uphold the rule of law” del Rosario said. “The Code of Conduct must be a mechanism of enforcing the arbitral tribunal [ruling] and not allow the Code of Conduct to undermine the arbitral ruling.”

The former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary and former Ambassador of the Philippines to the United States reiterated the implications of the ruling, which invalidated what he characterized as China’s dubious claim of historic rights embodied by its nine-dash line claim.” As such, del Rosario said that the CoC needs to be a mechanism that enables the enforcement of the arbitral ruling.

“With regard to the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, the Philippines must be vigilant, the [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], too, must be collectively vigilant, we must prevent China from attaining its goal to supplant and undermine the ruling rendered by the UNCLOS Tribunal,” del Rosario added.

A venerable panel of experts reacted to Sec. del Rosario’s lecture. The panel consisted of: Dr. Jay Batongbacal (Director, UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea); Dr. Alma Salvador (Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University); Dr. Ngeow Chow-Bing (Director, Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya); Dr. Ian Storey (Senior Fellow, Regional Strategic and Political Studies Programme, ISEAS- Yusof Ishak Institute); and Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC, Distinguished Honorary Professor, The Australian National University and former Foreign Minister of Australia.

Evans in his reaction stated that though it is in no one’s interest to turn up the heat on the already volatile situation in this disputed territory, China’s expansionist tendencies should be checked.

“China has been overreaching in the South China Sea and that while it’s in no one’s interest to precipitate any kind of military conflict, this is the time to be pushing back against that and certainly not further accommodating it by accepting the Code of Conduct that China is now demanding,” Evans said. 

He also added that the situation now calls for greater coordination and cooperation between member countries of the ASEAN. He said that powerful allies, though not completely abrogating their commitments to regional partners, are looking less likely to intervene if the tension worsens in the South China Sea. As such, Evans says that self-reliance is the name of the game.

“I don’t think that the United States would abandon its general commitment to the Indo-Pacific anytime soon, but I don’t think any of us can assure that it has any great enthusiasm anymore to do all of the heavy lifting by itself,” Evans added.

Meanwhile, Dr. Batongbacal stated that a CoC on the South China Sea is important, but instead of hoping for a sweeping agreement to be established soon, parties should be more realistic and work on smaller accords that can help de-escalate potential contentious situations.

“We need to change our objective from coming up with a comprehensive CoC and work towards incremental development of a series of agreements that eventually become the CoC in the future,” Batongbacal said.

The inaugural Ambassador Rodolfo C. Severino, Jr. Lecture was organized by The Ateneo de Manila University and the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development, Inc. Ambassador Severino was an alumnus of the Ateneo and was later regarded as one of the most respected diplomats in the country. He was also the 10th Secretary-General of the ASEAN, serving from 1998 to 2002.

“My friend Rod dedicated a good portion of his diplomatic career and his post-retirement age to ASEAN, and the South China Sea became his major preoccupation. Because it was then that tensions between ASEAN and China began simmering. He believed that the rule of law will have to prevail to prevent the disputes from boiling over into a major conflict,” Amb. Roberto Romulo, Chairman of the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development said in paying tribute to the late Amb. Severino.

According to Ateneo President Fr. Roberto Yap, SJ, the Ambassador Rodolfo C. Severino, Jr. Lecture is an important venue where the public can learn and expand its critical understanding of ideas and issues beyond the borders of our country especially now that the pandemic has really put into focus the interconnectedness of nations.

“It is our shared hope that these lectures as well as the research funded by the Amb. Severino endowment will help shape the decisions and actions of policy makers and leaders towards a future that is peaceful and just for all,” Yap added.

To watch the lecture, you may access these links on Facebook and YouTube.

For more information about the Ateneo de Manila University, please visit www.ateneo.edu. Like and follow them on Facebook.

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