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Is there a diplomatic solution to the impasse on the Philippine RH Bill?

Is there a diplomatic solution to the impasse between the State and Church in the ongoing debate on the RH Bill?

(First of 3 parts)

by Juan  “Jed” E.  Dayang, Jr.*

The Reproductive Health Bill or simply called RH Bill, is a proposed bill in the Philippine Congress aimed at ensuring universal access and information on birth control methods and maternal care.  The RH Bill is in line with the World Health Organisation’s vision for all peoples to have the highest possible level of sexual and reproductive health through provision of information and quality services.

Although there is a general consensus on the benefits of maternal and child care aspects of the bill, there is a contentious and divisive debate on the proposed widespread information, distribution, government funding and enforcement of family planning methods.  The Catholic Church, which represents the largest religious group in the Philippines, has been most critical of the government’s promotion of artificial birth control devices, which they view as contrary to faith and morals.

The controversial bill has polarized various sectors of society including experts, academics, religious institutions, and political leaders who are either support or are against the bill.  Based on surveys, seven out of ten Filipinos are in favour of the bill. President Benigno Aquino has expressed his full support to the bill compared to his predecessors. The impact of his outward support of the RH Bill alienated the Catholic Church. In the end, the President decided to have a dialogue with the Catholic Bishop Congress of the Philippines (CBCP) and has since been less vocal of his support of the Bill pending deliberation in Congress.  The position of the Catholic Church is that  use of artificial contraception is a major attack on authentic human values and on Filipino cultural values regarding human life and enjoins its members to disobey the RH bill if passed into law based on freedom of conscience.

In formulating the bill, it is imperative to know the stand of its most visible and outspoken critic, the Catholic Church in the Philippines.  In crafting any policy, it is important to know the positions of the critics because they can dilute the influence and reach of the policy. In a setting where parties can negotiate and concede some positions in favour of others, a compromise can be reached. We can, however, expect the Catholic Church not to waver in its positions.

We thus have a situation where: (1) the critic is not willing to negotiate; and (2) the critic is extremely influential. It will be foolish not to know its stand. The bill can ultimately be passed but it can run the risk of having no or limited followers, in which case the entire exercise in legislation is rendered ineffective.

To be continued


* The author’s main argument is the strengthening of the partnership between the government and the state. This article was presented in  the Forum on RH Bill organised by the Philippine Study Group (PSG) on 25 March 2011 at the Toad Hall, Australia National University.  The views expressed by author is entirely his own and does not reflect the Philippine government’s stance on the RH Bill.

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When is multilateral diplomacy more rewarding than bilateral diplomacy?

UN Security Council Chamber in New York.

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When is multilateral diplomacy more rewarding than bilateral diplomacy?


by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

Between bilateral diplomacy and multilateral diplomacy, I believe that many diplomats would say that  bilateral diplomacy is more rewarding. For the “bilateralists”, multilateral or conference diplomacy is time-consuming and could be  frustrating.

Arguably, the benefits and impact of bilateral diplomacy are easier to measure  given that there are only two  players  with agenda items somewhat limited in scope. However, bilateral diplomacy is not a panacea. Due to the imbalance of power relations between strong and weak states, the latter may find it incapable of pushing for its national interests in  a bilateral negotiation. Thus, some issues are best addressed among various states. Some of these issues include addressing international challenges in trade relations, climate change, migration, and transnational crimes.

Multilateral diplomacy,  which takes place when there are three or more states in a conference, could address the limitations of bilateral diplomacy and, in these circumstances, is likely to be more rewarding.

A More Level Playing Field

One significant benefit of multilateral diplomacy is levelling the playing field among states with different political and economic levels. The British Foreign Secretary Canning, after returning from a series of conferences after the 1815 Treaty of Vienna, praised normal bilateral diplomacy when he said “each for himself and God for us all”. Such remarks sum up why multilateral diplomacy limits self-interested motivations of the states.

In the United Nations, the veto powers enjoyed by the five permanent members of the Security Council prevent the tyranny of the powerful by ensuring that one veto can outvote any acts  with selfish intention or when one state resort to aggression.  Thus, it could be said that multilateral diplomacy is an effective safeguard against unilateralism and hegemonic ambitions of powerful states.

Coalition-building

In the United Nations, states can form coalitions based on geographic and regional considerations. Some examples or regional groupings includes the Africans, Latin Americans and Arabs, and European Union.  The  Group of 77 is an aggrupation  based on economic commonalities of developing countries.  These sub-groups form coalitions, cooperate, and promote their common interests that may subdue more power states. For instance, the G-77 countries  plus China called for the ending of the Doha Round of  trade talks last year.  Another example is how member countries of ASEAN are able to navigate a region which is surrounded by powerful neighbours such as China and India through the regional  body.

Venue to Address Transnational Issues and Harmonise Policies of States

Multilateral diplomacy is also more rewarding in finding and formulating solutions to global challenges which are transnational in nature.  Some of these issues include peace and security, international trade, climate change, human rights and solving transnational crimes.

Through multilateral diplomacy, states could come up with agreed norms through treaties that harmonises the foreign policy of member-states.  The League of Nations and the United Nations were created to provide a forum for nation-states to prevent war and conflict. Although the League of Nations failed, the U.N. has succeeded in minimizing the possibility of World War III.

Promotes Peace and Security

The U.N. is also involved in peace-keeping operations and  promotes  peace in conflict zones.  The U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDG) agenda also provides the states with a clear target and benchmarks for global elimination of poverty. In the U.N., states are able to discuss and formulate common agenda on issues such as human rights, including the rights of women and children and rights of migrant workers and their families, which may not be tabled in bilateral diplomatic exchanges.

In the Asian region, the ASEAN+3 is the only confidence-building mechanisms and venue where rival countries such as China, Japan and South Korea could sit and negotiate on issues not just related to North Korea. At the same time, the Six-party Talks, which has as its members the United States, China, Japan, South and North Koreas, is another example of the effectiveness of multilateral diplomacy in discussing and diplomatically engaging North Korea.

Representation through Candidatures

Multilateral diplomacy is also a venue for states to exert influence in the international stage through candidatures in International Organisations. For instance, countries, regardless of political or economic levels, could field their own candidates to the U.N. bodies and International Organisations.   One example is that South Korea supported the candidature of former Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon  as U.N. Secretary-General to project South Korea  as an economic model to the developing world. Likewise, the Philippines fielded the candidature of a Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary, who lost his bid as Deputy Director General of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) , aimed at projecting the Philippines as  model in managing labour migration.

Inclusivity to Non-state Actors

Lastly, multilateral diplomacy can be more inclusive and therefore more rewarding to non-state actors.  Although the primary actor of multilateral diplomacy remains primarily the state, civil society groups are recognised for their valuable role and contribution to development and may sometimes be consulted in in decision-making process.

Strengths of the Statist Definition of Diplomacy

January 22, 2011 2 comments
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Strengths of the Statist Definition of Diplomacy (Part 2)

by Juan E. Dayang, Jr.

The strengths of the state-centric approach to defining diplomacy are as follows:  (a) diplomacy between states has long historical roots, tradition, and established norms; (b) recognition of the crucial role of diplomats in gathering information, sending messages, and negotiating peace and security between states; and (3) a foundation for a legal basis through a treaty on diplomatic and consular relations.

History, Tradition and Norms

The practice of diplomacy has been recorded in ancient China and Egypt, classic Greece and during the Byzantine Empire.  Sending permanent envoys was established when Italian city-states appointed permanent ambassadors in the 15th century. Over the years, diplomatic tradition was established and became a norm, as with the “practice of permanent embassies” and the “immunity of ambassadors and the extraterritoriality of the permanent embassy.”[1] It was in the early 20th century, from 1914 to 1918, when states realized the importance of diplomacy in preventing war. The establishment of resident embassies, consulates and permanent missions overseas as well as the concomitant accreditation of diplomats as official representatives of the states in host countries is a customary norm in bilateral and multilateral relations. Diplomatic tradition and norms,[2] formed through practice and long experience by members of the diplomatic corps, remain relevant in coordinated action among states in facing the challenges of the 21st century.

Recognition of the Crucial Role of Professional Diplomats in Promoting Peace

The function of diplomats as representatives of the state and as messengers and gatherers of information is recognized universally. The role diplomats play in preventing wars and conflict between and among states is also recognised as an effective instrument for peace and confidence building.

Diplomacy gained momentum at the end of the catastrophic World Wars in the 20th century.  It has been suggested that the lack of crucial information was one of the causes of World War I when diplomacy was not yet fully in place to effectively conduct communication among states that viewed one another as actual or potential enemies.[3] After World War II, diplomacy was a vital instrument in crisis management and conflict resolution during the Cold War between the United States and the former USSR.  The conduct of international affairs was left in the hands of diplomats who were seen as capable and adept in navigating the peculiarities of the international political environment.

To this day, accredited diplomats remain as the most reliable agents of the state in achieving   foreign policy objectives through peaceful means. What makes a diplomat unique from a politician is his or her ability to see the bigger international picture and form mutually beneficial relations with key personalities and institutions in host countries.

Codified Law as Legal Basis of Diplomacy

The practice of diplomacy was recognized in the Congress of Vienna of 1815 which gave recognition to diplomats as a special class of profession. In 1961 the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations was signed. The treaty defined a framework for diplomatic relations between sovereign states and specified the privileges of a diplomatic mission. The convention, ratified by 186 countries, formed the legal basis for diplomatic immunity. Diplomats were allowed to execute their task without fear of coercion or persecution by the host country. Its provisions were considered a foundation of modern international relations.

In addition, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 is an international treaty that identified a structure for consular relations between independent countries. Under this treaty, ratified by 172 countries, consuls are accorded most of the similar privileges, including consular immunity, a variant of diplomatic immunity.[4] A consul on the whole operates out of an embassy or consulate-general in a foreign country, and performs two important functions: (1) defending in the host country the interests of their citizens, and (2) promoting the economic and commercial relations between the two countries. Although a consul is not a diplomat, they work in the same location and, in most Foreign Ministries, Foreign Service personnel and officers have a dual function as diplomats and consuls when stationed overseas. Such codification of diplomatic practice strengthens the traditional definition of diplomacy conducted by professional diplomats.[5]

………. to be continued 


[1] Holsti, Taming the Sovereigns: Institutional Change in International Politics.

[2] For a more through study on the norms and socialization of diplomats read Mai’a Keapuolani Davis Cross, “A European Epistemic Community of Diplomats,” in The Diplomatic Corps as an Institution of International Society, ed. Paul and Wiseman Sharp, Geoffrey (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

[3] For more substantive account of the evolution of diplomacy read Harold Nicolson, The Evolution of Diplomatic Method (London: Cassel Publishers, 1957).

[4] Read the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular relations at “United Nations Treaty Collection,”  http://treaties.un.org/Home.aspx.

[5] Donna and Hudson Lee, David, “The Old and New Significance of Political Economy in Diplomacy,” Review of International Studies 30(2004).

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