Public agendas and private interests in ICC/South China Sea

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In the contested ICC and South China Sea issues, there are increasing concerns about public agendas fueled by private interests. The structures of Albert del Rosario’s think-tank and its many bedfellows are a case in point.

IN February, the US-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) released a heavily promoted report alleging that China sought to intimidate Filipinos into ceasing construction work on the Pag-Asa Island (Thitu) in the South China Sea.

In March, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s South China Sea “plan” portrayed as a “crime against humanity.” Perhaps, emboldened by the filing, the ICC, reportedly, also tries to pursue a case against the Philippine drug war.

Filed in the name of “Filipino fishermen,” the complaint has been followed by rounds of alarmist media headlines, coupled with heavily touted AMTI reports about “Chinese militarization” of the South China Sea. Yet local fishermen are apprehensive about the filing and its timing since they do not feel harassed by the Chinese coast guards anymore, according to Philippine-based GMA News.

Nevertheless, media carousels have intensified after the visit of US Secretary State Mike Pompeo and US “freedom of navigation” exercises, the debate about the review of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty, and the impending Philippine midterm elections.

Worse, the ICC filing is also linked with potential private gains behind the public agendas. Every think-tank is entitled to its voice, but neither AMTI nor del Rosario’s think-tank are as “independent” as claimed – and the latter is haunted by allegations of perceived conflicts of interest, according to its Filipino critics.

Interest conflicts and energy reserves

Educated in the United States, del Rosario served as Philippine ambassador to the US in the 2000s and Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the Benigno Aquino 3rd government (2010-2016). His ties with the Aquino political dynasty go back to the presidency of Corazon Aquino (1986-1992), when he accompanied her on state visits to the US.

While del Rosario is portrayed as a diplomat, he is also a business executive. In the Aquino government, he was reportedly the wealthiest, with net worth almost $14 million in 2013. Prior to government, his business career covered many industries, corporate chairmanships and directorships. These ties were officially suspended during his government activities – but not effectively.

Public agendas and private interests in ICC/South China Sea

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