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PHL failed to exercise ASEAN chairmanship power, ex-envoy says

The Philippines failed to capitalize on its ASEAN chairmanship when it opted to become silent on the South China Sea issue during the recently held summit in Manila, its former ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday.

Ambassador Lauro Baja Jr. scored the 30th ASEAN Summit Chairman's Statement for not mentioning the maritime dispute involving China at a time when all ASEAN leaders were in one table. 

"That’s not a chairman’s statement, it's a Chinese statement," Baja said during a book launch that discussed the 50th founding anniversary of ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nation.

"We were silent because we wanted to, and of course other members followed because what can they do if we advocate for this silence," Baja said. "As a result, there was a perception that ASEAN in the April summit adopted the silence of the lambs." 

After intense debates and lobbying, ASEAN leaders revised the final statement and removed indirect reference to the arbitration ruling that invalidated China's sweeping sea claims over the South China Sea from a paragraph on the West Philippine Sea. 

Baja said President Rodrigo Duterte, the current ASEAN chairman, should have used his role to advance the Philippines' stand instead of just being a "neutral chairman."

"We did not exercise the powers of a chairman. The chairman sets the tone in the meeting. He should dominate the meeting. There’s no such thing as a neutral chairman. Take advantage of your chairmanship and promote your advocacies," he said.

"He is chairman and in past experiences the chairman sets the tone that 'this is what I want of our chairmanship. Ito ang gusto ko'," Baja added. 

Baja, nonetheless, praised Duterte for the country's successful hosting of the ASEAN Summit last month He even joked about Duterte's good behavior.

"About the only positive thing we can say about the summit is that our president has been for once in good behavior. We have exceeded again Philippine hospitality and then we were more mature in our arrangements," Baja said.

Duterte had earlier said that he is setting aside the arbitral ruling won by the Philippines before the Permanent Court of Arbitration to have warmer economic ties with China.

He vowed to eventually bring up the ruling with Beijing at the proper time.  —KBK, GMA News