Citadel of Truth

Citadel of Truth

The University as a Citadel of Truth 
By Ambassador Delia D. Albert, Former Ambassador to Germany & Senior Adviser, SGV & Co.

(Speech delivered during the Eminent Persons Lecture on 24 August 2012 at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, in celebration of Silliman University's 111th Founders Day.  [Photo source:].

I thank Silliman University through your President Ben Malayang for the distinct honor given me to address you today in celebration of the University’s 111th Foundation week. I am specially delighted because I had always wanted to visit an academic institution which is highly  regarded and often talked about fondly by my family and friends, a few of whom graduated from this institution like cousins Elmo Makil and Solomon Bilaoen.

On my way here, I was informed by colleagues at SGV that Silliman University graduates are highly appreciated not only for their skills as accountants but also for their good character which is important for the profession

I also wish to congratulate Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee on their 50th anniversary which was celebrated last night with wonderful performances.  Indeed it is more fun in Silliman!

Yesterday I visited the gravesite and paid my respects to Harriet & Hubert Reynolds. Their daughter Jane and  I grew up together and were dearest of friends in High School in the late 50’s.  We often hiked together home from school that shopkeepers along Session Road called us  the ‘tall and short” of  Baguio City High School.  Baguio then had a smaller community where nearly everyone knew everybody.  It was also cooler, cleaner and all together a wholesome city perhaps like Dumaguete City.

Two months ago, my Alma Mater the University of the Philippines conferred on me what I consider the most meaningful award any graduate of an academic institution could aspire for as its “Most Distinguished Alumna in 2012”.

It was a humbling experience to join the roster of 24 eminent women most distinguished  awardees starting in 1947 with the noble patriot Josefa Llanes Escoda  and most recently the brilliant jurist Ameurfina Melencio Herrera who was awarded in 2007.  I became number 25!

In accepting the award on behalf of the 2012 outstanding alumni awardees I acknowledged what the University had taught us to strive for – namely, to serve the country with “honor and excellence.”

On that occasion, I was also a Golden Jubilarian. I graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service in 1962.  I recalled the message of the 11th U.P. President,  Carlos P. Romulo who took his oath of office that year.    His vision was for the State University  and I believe he also meant it for all higher institution of learning to be a “citadel of truth”.

From my visits to your library and museum and meetings held yesterday and today, I can say that  the University has come a long way since David Hibbard wrote to Horace Silliman proposing that “the school must be of such a character that it will attract the best students and then instruct them in the dignity of honest work.”

Also, yesterday I was delighted  to learn that one of Silliman University’s strengths today is  research in the field of  environmental and marine science which led to its being designated as a “Center of Excellence in Coastal Research Management.”   Your work in this area of scientific discipline is most relevant for the Philippines as a maritime country with one of the longest coastlines in the world.  In addition, it is an archipelago located in a geographic area of strategic importance which is also believed to be rich in energy and mineral resources.

For this reason the Philippines has taken an active role in the discussions and debates on the geostrategic importance of the region in various fora such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),  the  ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) and APEC (the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) as well as in multilateral bodies as the U.N. (United Nations).

I remember chairing the first APEC Conference on Maritime Security in 1993 where we recommended actions to secure the sealanes of the region  from piracy, terrorist attacks and other challenges that impede international trade.

The Philippines as one of the founding members of ASEAN, together with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore actively participated in the adoption of the highly debated “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea” where countries are enjoined to address conflict   in a peaceful manner.

Ensuring our national security is after all the first pillar of Philippine Foreign Policy in addition to the enhancement of our economic development and the protection and promotion of the welfare of the Filipino overseas.

In all these discussions, it is not  only the safety of the sealanes that are of concern to regional players.  A bone of contention among the claimants includes the islands large or small, reefs and rocks that are apparent or submerged, and certainly the waters which are believed to contain highly valuable resources.

It is in this context that I will now dwell a bit on the strategic architecture of the Asia-Pacific region in order to understand and appreciate the  situation the Philippines finds itself in today.

Let me start with the profound transformation taking place in our region since the early 1990’s.

The end of the Cold War dramatically signaled by the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 gave countries not only in Europe but in our region the needed break to focus on their respective economies.  The extraordinary economic growth of the region as well before the 1997-98 economic crisis was indeed unprecedented.    The Philippines also felt this boom which  gave us the basis to venture bravely into major economic and commercial projects and even dared to aspire as one of the “Asian Tiger Economies.”  For the countries in the region, this meant not only economic growth but a more intensified economic interdependence.

For some countries, with this growth came increased resources for other programs such as defense and new security concerns also emerged.  Even the concept of “security” itself has been changing and the traditional military concerns are being supplemented by issues of economic and environmental security

The unprecedented changes taking place  both in pace and scope in the region also increased the complexity of regional security concerns and with it a degree of uncertainty.   Maritime developments became a focus of the security environment since many of the countries in the region from Japan in the north to Chinese Taipei and to  Southeast Asia are islands or group of islands such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.  They all lie along the busiest shipping lanes in the world.  Others such as China and South Korea have long coastlines and depend on the sealanes for their active global trading activities.

Security in this region therefore is directly related to maritime issues.  The waterways along the Asia Pacific are strategically important both for merchant shipping as well as for naval vessels while coastal and offshore resources provide  important means of livelihood in many of the countries in the region.  Moreover, for some of these countries military threats could come from over or under the sea.

However most of the more worrisome territorial and sovereignty disputes in the region involve those over islands and maritime boundaries as jurisdiction over waters is necessarily  dependent on jurisdiction over land to which the waters are adjoined.

Indeed the Philippines being located where it is lying between the China Sea and the Pacific Ocean faces a great challenge in these so-called“flashpoint” issues.

You may ask, how do I view the current situation having been in the forefront of Philippine diplomacy?

Having spent more than 40  years of my life in diplomatic work, I am convinced that in this day and age most  issues  between nations, big or small can be addressed through skilled, learned and dedicated diplomatic negotiations.  Even a life can be saved through skilled  negotiations if we are able to convince ourselves and the other side of our sincerity and the credibility to deliver what we promise.    For me this was put to test during the toughest challenge I ever faced  in my entire diplomatic career namely negotiating to save the life of the Filipino truck driver, Angelo dela Cruz, a hostage in the Iraq war who was threatened to be executed by his unknown captors.  Fortunately, we successfully  saved his life against all odds.  In retrospect I was inspired what I learned from the Talmud which taught that “saving one life is like saving humanity” .  My relationship with Quakers who believe and respect that of “God in every man” prevailed during my negotiations

On the situation in the South China Sea or West Philippines Sea as we know it today I would highlight two points to consider:

  • First, I do not believe that we can maintain our claim on the Scarborough Shoal by force of arms.
  • Second, I believe that the only rational choice is to seek a resolution through peaceful means – which by the way is the basic principle prescribed by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or ITLOS.

To pursue this only rational alternative, the Philippines has to be well prepared with the legal and diplomatic /scientific knowledge and skills needed to undertake the steps to meet the challenge.

To support our claims  the Philippines has been maintaining its positions based on proximity and international agreements and refers to the following national and international legal instruments as vital to our interest.

  • First, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which governs issues of jurisdiction over matters which is dependent on jurisdiction over land adjoining the waters. The Philippines, like China is a signatory to this Convention.
  • Second,  The Treaty of Paris of 1898 which sets the territorial limits of the Philippines based on lines drawn on an 1898 map when US took over from Spain.  Note that the Scarborough Shoal is outside the limits set by the Treaty.  However, the Philippines claim a long history of activities in the area by Filipino fishermen, even calling it “Bajo de Masinloc” the closest  town in Zambales.  
  • Third, the Philippine Constitution declares that Philippine territory consists of the archipelago “and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty  of jurisdiction consisting of its territorial fluvial and aerial domain including other territories based on available evidence.

The 1973 Constitution made reference to these as “other territories belonging to the Philippines by historical or legal title.

  • Fourth, Republic Act 9522 which was enacted to designate the baselines of the Philippines as provided by the UNCLOS.  It provides for one baseline around the archipelago and separate baselines for a “regime of islands” – meaning islands other than those within the archipelago.  These “regime of islands” have their own territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and contiguous shelf.  RA 9522 has placed Scarborough Shoal within a Philippine “regime of islands.”

As expected China and Vietnam which also claims historic title to the area protested the enactment of RA 9522  because it could mean control over fishing, mining, oil and gas exploration and other economic resources within the exclusive economic zone.

Obviously it is the race for these resources why states  compete over its control.

The Philippines position as I remember has always been to submit the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), an independent judicial body established by the U.N. Law of the Sea based in Hamburg, Germany.  It can adjudicate disputes arising from the Law of the Sea.  So far, China has rejected the submission to the ITLOS. It has maintained that the dispute be addressed bilaterally with each of the claimants, an approach which the Philippines objects to.

However, it is important to underscore that the UNCLOS provides for a comprehensive system for the settlement of the disputes.  While the overriding principle is to require parties to settle their disputes by peaceful means, countries are given other alternatives such as:

  • Submission to ITLOS
  • Submission to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or
  • Submission to special arbitral tribunals constituted in accordance with the Convention.

The Convention however requires the parties to agree on the choice of method of settlement to be  used.

How do I see the way forward?  Experience tells me the following possibilities:

  1. Peaceful resolution of outstanding issues by  strengthening ASEAN’s resolve.
  2. Joint development and management of disputed resources by the claimants.

Note that Southeast Asia  is  a proximate source of oil and gas for China and safe passage of SEA waters is vital to China’s economy.  Therefore, the resolution of the issues in the troubled areas is important.

Moreover, China will continue t be a market for Southeast Asian  energy and mineral exports as well as a  source of investments for developing related industries.

The policy and decision makers of the country would need all the support it can muster most importantly from the Filipinos themselves.

I believe that academic institutions could play an important role in assisting the thinking process that is imperative in addressing this challenge.  Silliman University’s Centre of Excellence could serve as one of the “think tanks” that could provide scientific and other relevant information and even recommendation that could assist our policy and decision makers.

Indeed, academic institutions as “citadels of truth” could help the country by being relevant to the country’s current needs.  I encourage and support the strengthening you’re your marine studies  and its related sciences.

Finally let me once again refer to President Carlos P. Romulo’s thoughts on a university’s mission. 

“A university’s mission is to  constantly search for knowledge.  Scholarship its primordial concern, research its indispensable arm and unfailing source of strength.  It believes in values, above all thing else, human freedom without which there can be no creative ingenuity that can make of knowledge a blessing to society.”

I congratulate Silliman University in celebrating  111th years contributing to the development of the country. I am certain that you all, its faculty, its alumni, its students and all those whose lives have been touched have done this institution and its founders proud with your own individual and collective successes.

Thank you and I wish you more years of continuing  contribution to our country’s well-being.

Let me end with words borrowed from a poet of the 12th century which I found in a book of poems at the Islamic Museum of Kuala Lumpur.

  • I, by myself, am copper

Through you (God) – I am gold

  • I by myself am a stone

Through you (God) – I am a gem

Congratulations to all the gems!