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The ADR in all of us


Former Ambassador to the United States and former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario was on his way to San Francisco on the early morning of April 18 with his wife and his son-in-law when he suffered a massive heart attack and passed away.

For a week now, the tributes have been flowing nonstop, from various individuals, civil society, the public and private sectors, foreign governments, the international diplomatic community, and other organizations. All agree that the late ambassador — ADR to many of us who knew and worked with him — was a foreign policy titan, a consummate patriot, and a decent human being.

As many of you know, Ambassador del Rosario is the ADR in our Stratbase ADR Institute. He was our chairman, guiding and steering us in our pursuit of what we believed was right and just. We were inspired by his passion, guided by his wisdom, kept on our toes by his rigor and acumen — and warmed, truly warmed, by his friendship.

We mourn the loss of a man who did not only announce his convictions but lived them.

Today, in adding my voice to the chorus of tributes to a great man, I will repeat the words he himself said on various occasions as he advanced the Philippines’ interest, first and foremost, and at times at great peril and inconvenience to himself.

ADR was a fierce champion of the rule of law. Just earlier this month, he wrote in an opinion piece in the Philippine Star: “We believe that any Filipino leader inevitably has to confront the serious and critical challenges confronting our nation with respect to the West Philippine Sea. Nonetheless, as we have said before, there is but one anchor that will guide us in successfully resolving the situation, and that is the Rule of Law.”

Then again, defending and advancing the Philippines’ territorial rights had been his advocacy for a long time. In 2015, even before we obtained our legal victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, ADR wrote about China’s so-called nine-dash line in Foreign Policy:

“Let me review the core issue, which is China’s claim that they have indisputable sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea as represented by their ‘nine-dash line.’ This is in contradiction to international law. If this position were not challenged, the Philippines would stand to lose our right to fish in our exclusive economic zone and our right to our hydrocarbon resources. Moreover, we are not allowed to enforce our laws in our exclusive economic zones, [we have] no right to fish, no right to our natural resources.”

He continued: “There would be no adherence to the rule of law. If the rule of law is not adhered to, you will have chaos and anarchy. It will be the rule of law versus the rule of the jungle. Effectively, you will have a region where might is right and where coercion is an acceptable dispute settlement mechanism.”

He had no ambiguities whatsoever when it came to what we should do amid the threats of China, which he unabashedly called a bully. “Standing up is what Filipinos must do to uphold the Rule of Law and prevent bullies from having their way. In the South China Sea, China is the bully because it has no right to hijack an entire sea. Yet China remains adamant in forcing its unjustified claims against the world,” he wrote two years ago.

In December last year, the comparison went beyond that with a bully. He wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “The West Philippine Sea is ours under the law and the 2016 Arbitral Award under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS. Thus, we do not need China’s consent or permission to use our own resources in the West Philippine Sea. Talking to China to give us access to the West Philippine Sea is like talking to a thief to give back what the thief stole from us.”

Of course, being a paragon of decency and propriety, ADR asked former President Rodrigo Duterte: “Mr. President, our respectful plea is the same: may we urge you to enforce the Arbitral Award and protect the West Philippine Sea for our country and our people? May we urge you, Mr. President, not to trade our lands and waters for prospects of money given by China?”

The struggle continues. Duterte has gone, we have a new set of leaders, but the threat posed by China and the boldness by which it makes these threats remain. In his mind, Ambassador ADR may have had a clear and unequivocal picture of how all countries are supposed to abide by the rules-based international order, and how the broader international community should respond to transgressions made by some counties, as China is doing now.

At the same time, he had a firm grasp of the realities of politics and geopolitics, the nature of the behavior of different leaders, and the role that people and societies play in helping shape decisions that affect their lives. He was as firmly grounded in reality as he was idealistic and optimistic.

We at Stratbase believe that we can best celebrate ADR’s well-lived life and carry on his legacy by continuing the work that we have begun. We will remain laser-focused on the issues that he was passionate about, dissecting them, making conversations happen among stakeholders — decision-makers, government and corporate leaders, analysts and observers — and then bringing them to the consciousness of the Filipino public, occasioning collaboration toward our goal.

The people have lost an indefatigable fighter in ADR. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him could attest that his zeal was contagious. His love for country — not a vague, abstract notion but one that was concretized in his life’s work — fortified our own.

Our heartfelt sympathies to the family. ADR will be on our minds as we continue our work from day to day.

Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.

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