DFA chief warns more surprises loom as Shoal crisis grows deep
MANILA, Philippines – “Expect the unexpected.”
This was one of Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario’s messages to Philippine diplomats during the recent Department of Foreign Affairs strategic planning workshop, held on April 14 at a Tagaytay City hotel.
In his remarks before meeting participants, Del Rosario disclosed that “one of the things that I’ve learned to prepare myself for more and more in this job is to expect the unexpected.”
He recalled that “last night, we had a rather long meeting with (President Aquino) and the Standing Committee on Crisis to discuss the Scarborough Shoal situation.”
“And so there were many factors. But basically there were two factors. One is the fishing vessels of the Chinese and the white (maritime surveillance) vessels, which at any time outnumbered our Coast Guard vessel or before that (the Philippine Navy Hamilton-class cutter Gregorio del Pilar)…The Coast Guard, of course we have been negotiating day and night with (Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing) and that is why I’m standing because I have been seating all week talking with her, so I would just prefer to stand.”
According to Del Rosario, “we have been discussing what to do, what proper protocol to institute in terms of satisfying both countries as to the disposition of the fishermen from China. So we are watching them, watching them, watching them.”
But the DFA head said to their surprise, they were told by Rear Admiral Edmund Tan, the Coast Guard chief, that the same Chinese boats had “suddenly disappeared.”
“The Hamilton cutter, then followed by the Coast Guard vessel positioned themselves quite a distance from the entrance of the shoal just to be able to monitor the movements of the (Chinese) vessels. And we were hoping that, as we were discussing this, to see what the outcome would be that at least they would be in a controlled area. So we are discussing. And then suddenly, the Coast Guard commandant said that, “What about those boats? What boats? They are all gone!” he said.
Del Rosario went on, saying “I don’t know whether it was a lull, the positioning in the shoal…There is a mouth to it, and in that mouth there were two Chinese vessels guarding it.”
“And we were guarding the two Chinese vessels and I don’t know how far we were, but (the Philippine vessels apparently) didn’t even notice that all of these boats have already left. And so everyone was surprised…After talking and guarding these vessels, now suddenly they disappeared. So, expect the unexpected,” he said.
The INQUIRER earlier reported that eight Chinese fishing boats and a surveillance ship involved in a standoff with the Philippines left the disputed shoal on April 13, easing tensions between Manila and Beijing.
But the tensions spiked again the following day after China sent back a surveillance vessel to the shoal and a Chinese aircraft flew over a Philippine Coast Guard ship facing off a Chinese vessel in the area.
Del Rosario had said the developments came despite his agreement with Ma not to take any action that would escalate tensions in the area.
The departure of the Chinese fishing boats eased the tensions. However, the Philippines failed to confiscate the boats’ illegal harvest of giant clams, corals and sharks.
Del Rosario called the Chinese vessel’s getaway “regrettable.”
Yesterday, the BRP Edsa, a Coast Guard search and rescue vessel, was facing off with two Chinese maritime surveillance ships at the shoal in a 13-day territorial impasse set off on April 10 by Chinese poaching in the area, located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales province on the western coast of Luzon.
Both asserting their territorial claims to the shoal, which Manila calls Bajo de Masinloc, the Philippines and China have refused to recall their vessels from the area.
During the DFA workshop, Del Rosario also stressed the need for foreign office staff “need to know where you are going. That’s number one. And number two is you need to determine the steps that you need to take that will bring you there.”
“We need a roadmap for ourselves. And that roadmap, that plan, is very essential. I’m finding out that we have more things to do in the DFA than there are hours that allow us to do what we need to do. We’re always running out of time and I think that, that’s not only true for me. I think it’s true for all of us. There’s just so much on our plate and when we leave what we’re doing if we have a plan, it’s so much easier to go back to find out exactly where we left off and where we should pick up to continue,” he said.
He also emphasized “we need to be able to prioritize.”
“We can’t do everything at one time. We need to know how to multitask. But at the same time, we need to be able to prioritize. And we need to be able to have the confidence that we are constantly delegating. We need to know how to delegate and whom to delegate to. I think this is all very important,” he said.
Del Rosario said “it was (ancient Chinese philosopher & military strategist) Sun Tzu who said & converted some of his wisdoms into how to do strategic planning.”
“And I think the point that he made…One is know when and how to fight. Second is, know how to do what is right. Thirdly, he says know what the facts are. And he said that know to cease the day, when to burn your bridges. And also, know how to pull people together, know how to appreciate your people and of course, my addition to Sun Tzu is, know how to get your people and yourself to reach beyond your grasp at all times,” he noted.
At the same time, Del Rosario asked his subordinates to get things done fast enough.
“From my point of view, we need to know how to do things faster. We must know how to do things faster. We must know how to do new things and we also must know how to be able to coordinate with others a little better,” he said.
On the DFA-coordinated state visits, Del Rosario said “we go out and visit other countries and sign many agreements.”
“But whether these agreements are in fact being pushed forward, I question that. And whether people are paying attention to make things happen as agreed upon, I also question that. My sense is it’s true that we put a lot of efforts in terms of making the visits here or there successful. But after the visit is completed, we see to just say…we take a deep sigh and we say, “God, I’m glad that it’s over.” No, I think that’s only when the work starts,” he also said.
He emphasized “the country needs our help. And these agreements actually move forward our ability to be helpful to our country.”
I know that you all work hard. I know that you all have your personalities, your different characteristics and traits, but sometimes I also noticed that you guys don’t get along with each other. And that sometimes provides some difficulties in terms of getting the work done efficiently. There should be none of that in the DFA. We should be all be considered as professionals.”
He urged DFA personnel to “like each other, but if you don’t, that should not get in the way.”
On his “humble observations,” Del Rosario asked DFA staff to “take them for what they are worth.”
He expressed hope that “as we leave here tomorrow, I think that you will all be more purposeful and more constructive and you will be able to address what needs to be done.”