The lim­its and re­al­i­ties of na­tional sovereignty


WHILE we are rev­el­ing over Pres­i­dent Duterte’s seem­ingly tri­umphant joust with the seven-mem­ber del­e­ga­tion from the Euro­pean par­lia­ment, and the Hu­man Rights Watch, I sub­mit that it on whether DU30’s un­der­stand­ing of “na­tional sovereignty” is any dif­fer­ent from Kim Jong-un’s un­der­stand­ing of the sovereignty of North Korea.

Philip­pine diplo­macy has forged many more treaties and obli­ga­tions, and achieved so much more than North re­cov­ered our in­de­pen­dence in 1946. We have a more de­vel­oped and ma­ture re­la­tion­ship with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity than the her­mit state. And surely

re­la­tions than Kim Jong-un, hav­ing been schooled in law and the lib­eral arts.

Surely also, our pres­i­dent does not sub­scribe to the now aban­doned idea that na­tional sovereignty means to­tal free­dom of ac­tion by a state in its re­la­tions with other na­tions. Sovereignty orig­i­nally meant that it is the ultimate author­ity in the de­ci­sion­mak­ing process of the state and in the main­te­nance of or­der. This is the rea­son why the con­cept of sovereignty is one of the most con­tro­ver­sial ideas in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence­and in­ter­na­tional law.

Blis­ter­ing re­sponse to EU and HRW

Like many com­pa­tri­ots, I was both star­tled and elated by Duterte’s blis­ter­ing re­sponse to the blus­tery de­mands and crit­i­cisms lev­eled by the seven-mem­ber Euro­pean mis­sion and the Hu­man Rights Watch against our gov­ern­ment.

This is what hap­pens when a state as­serts its rights as a sov­er­eign. It was im­por­tant for DU30 to draw the line. And he quickly got in­ter­est­ing re­sults.

When Pres­i­dent Duterte told Euro­pean Union (EU) diplo­mats to leave the coun­try in 24 hours and pre­pare for the sev­er­ance of re­la­tions, it was quickly dis­closed that the in­so­lent Euro­pean del­e­ga­tion does not rep­re­sent the Euro­pean Union ( EU) at all. The real EU di­plo­matic mis­sion hastily de­clared that it fully sup­ports the Duterte gov­ern­ment in its cam­paign against il­le­gal drugs and is com­mit­ted to grow­ing the long thriv­ing EUPhilip­pines part­ner­ship.

When Hu­man Rights Watch ( HRW) ar­ro­gantly warned that the Philip­pines could be ousted as a mem­ber of the UnitedNations Hu­man Rights Coun­cil (UNCHR), Duterte urged them, to do it now. It was then quickly dis­cov­ered that HRW has no role what­ever in the United Na­tions; it is only a non- gov­ern­ment hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion that works as a pres­sure group.

In 2010, The wrote that HRW, in­stead of be­ing sup­ported by a mass mem­ber­ship, like Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, de­pends com­pletely on wealthy donors who like to see the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s re­ports make head­lines. For this rea­son, ac­cord­ing to

HRW tends to “con­cen­trate too much on places that the me­dia al­ready cares about”.

With its re­cent state­ment on the Philip­pines, HRW was bid­ding for a head­line.

The Euro­pean group and the HRW are alike in mainly seek­ing pub­lic­ity and at­ten­tion for them­selves. Their ob­jec­tive is to an­noy and pro­voke Duterte into im­pul­sive state­ments and de­ci­sions, which will gar­ner some pub­lic­ity. To some ex­tent they suc­ceeded,be­cause here I am writ­ing about them.

The real score on sovereignty

More im­por­tant, these sticky episodes should prod our gov­ern­ment, and es­pe­cially the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs, to un­der­take a more com­pe­tent study of the real state of sovereignty in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs to­day. It should be able to give bet­ter brief­ings to the Pres­i­dent on for­eign pol­icy is­sues.

I have in mind some­thing sim­i­lar to the ex­cel­lent in­tro­duc­tion by the Bri­tan­nica to the con­cept of sovereignty.

The ar­ti­cle re­views how dur­ing the 20th cen­tury im­por­tant re­stric­tions on the free­dom of ac­tion of states started to ap­pear. The Hague con­ven­tions of 1899 and 1907 es­tab­lished de­tailed rules gov­ern­ing the con­duct of wars on land and at sea. The Covenant of the League of Na­tions, the fore­run­ner of the United Na­tions (UN), re­stricted the right to wage war, and the Kel­logg- Briand Pact of 1928 con­demned re­course to war for the so­lu­tion of in­ter­na­tional con­tro­ver­sies and its use as an in­stru­ment of na­tional pol­icy.

They were fol­lowed by the Char­ter of the United Na­tions (Ar­ti­cle 2), which im­posed the duty on mem­ber states to “set­tle their in­ter­na­tional dis­putes by peace­ful means in such a man­ner that in­ter­na­tional peace and se­cu­rity, and jus­tice, are not en­dan­gered.”

Bri­tan­nica con­cluded that in con­se­quence of these de­vel­op­ments, sovereignty ceased to be con­sid­ered as syn­ony­mous with un­re­stricted power. States ac­cepted a con­sid­er­able body of law lim­it­ing their sov­er­eign right to act as they please. Those re­stric­tions on sovereignty are usu­ally ex­plained as de­riv­ing from con­sent or au­tolim­i­ta­tion, but it can eas­ily be demon­strated that in some cases states have been con­sid­ered as bound by cer­tain rules of in­ter­na­tional law de­spite the lack of sat­is­fac­tory proof that these rules were ex­pressly or im­plic­itly ac­cepted by them. Con­versely, new rules can­not or­di­nar­ily be im­posed upon a state, with­out its con­sent, by the will of other states.

In this way a bal­ance has been achieved be­tween the needs of the in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety and the de­sire of states to pro­tect their sovereignty to the max­i­mum pos­si­ble ex­tent.

The con­cept of ab­so­lute, un­lim­ited sovereignty did not last. The growth of democ­racy im­posed im­por­tant lim­i­ta­tions upon the power of the sov­er­eign and of the rul­ing classes. The in­crease in the in­ter­de­pen­dence of states re­stricted the prin­ci­ple that might is right in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. Cit­i­zens and pol­i­cy­mak­ers gen­er­ally have rec­og­nized that there can be no peace with­out law and that there can be no law with­out some lim­i­ta­tions on sovereignty. They started, there­fore, to pool their sovereign­ties to the ex­tent needed to main­tain peace and pros­per­ity ( e. g., the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion, the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, and the Euro­pean Union), and sovereignty is be­ing in­creas­ingly ex­er­cised on be­half of the peo­ples of the world not only by na­tional gov­ern­ments but also by re­gional and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Walk­ing back DU30 state­ment

It is com­mend­able that the re­cent dust- up has been quickly damped down by both Philip­pine and EU of­fi­cials. At­ten­tion is firmly fixed on a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship.

The EU has over­taken the United States and Ja­pan as the largest des­ti­na­tion of ex­ports from the Philip­pines, ac­cord­ing to the Philip­pines Statis­tics Author­ity (PSA). With $901 mil­lion of to­tal ex­ports, EU is the big­gest and fastest grow­ing ex­port mar­ket for Philip­pine goods.

The Philip­pines was granted ben GSP+ in De­cem­ber 2014, al­low­ing it to ex­port 6,274 el­i­gi­ble prod­ucts duty-free to the EU mar­ket.

Ear­lier this year, the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment an­nounced that it would no longer ac­cept grants from EU be­cause the bloc in­ter­feres with Philip­pine au­ton­omy. Eco­nomic Plan­ning Sec­re­tary Ernesto Per­nia has said,how­ever. that the de­ci­sion to re­ject EU grants is “not a pol­icy,” hint­ing that the gov­ern­ment may take back the state­ment.

Mala­cañang has walked back Duterte’s re­marks ask­ing EU am­bas­sadors to leave in 24 hours, say­ing that it was just an ex­pres­sion of “out­rage” over an ir­re­spon­si­ble state­ment made by vis­it­ing Euro­pean par­lia­men­tar­i­ans.

It has hap­pened be­fore. It could hap­pen again.

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