The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) must take a strong position on the simmering tensions on the Korean peninsula, and the Philippines must play the part of a “friendly, helpful negotiator,” former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos has said.
“The Asean as a group should take a firm position, which has not yet been heard,” he said, noting that it was the United Nations that had been taking such a stance, including renewing sanctions against North Korea and other nuclear weapons-holding nations.
“If Asean takes a firm position, we in the Philippines, who are the northernmost of the Asean countries and therefore the closest to Ground Zero, should be ready to take a position of being a friendly and helpful negotiator for both sides,” he said.
After all, he said, the Philippines has diplomatic relations with both North and South Korea.
At a press briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Terminal, Ramos, who was to leave for Cambodia to attend an international assembly of Asian political parties, said not even North Korea was keen on armed hostilities.
“War is not an option to anybody, not even to North Korea, because of the vast destruction and disruption of people’s lives, not only there but elsewhere,” said Ramos, a veteran of the Korean War.
The former president said it was a good sign that China, perceived as North Korea’s main ally, was pushing for the reconvening of the six-party talks on the Korean problem involving the US, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea itself.
For the Philippines, he said war between the Koreas would be undesirable.
“Even if we’re far from the fallout area, there are some 60,000 Filipino compatriots in South Korea and nearby who would be directly affected,” he said.
“But the deep impact would be that trade, travel, tourism, people-to-people exchanges not only in South Korea itself but within the East Asian region. People from whatever country in our region would be scared of moving around in the meantime,” Ramos said.
He said it was a good move to alert the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Alerting the Armed Forces, just in case, is not a declaration of war against anybody, and neither is it already a commitment of sizable forces in our country to move to Korea,” Ramos said.
“On the other hand, it is only our Armed Forces, supported by the Philippine National Police, that can provide direct protection for our more than 60,000 Filipino citizens and workers in South Korea,” he said.
Ultimately, however, Ramos said, only “patient but determined diplomacy through peaceful dialogs and back-channeling can create a better atmosphere for peace to be eventually restored in the Korean peninsula.”
In a related development, Special Envoy Roy Cimatu reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday that the situation in Korea was stable.
“Despite the tensions, the situation right now is stable,” he said in a November 27 meeting with officials at the Philippine Embassy in Seoul.
He also expressed his confidence in the ability of the South Korean government to effectively handle the situation.
“In case of emergency, we want to be sure that the Philippine government is ready to meet the needs of Filipinos in South Korea,” Cimatu told the officials.
Cimatu, head of a six-man rapid response team in South Korea, said the Philippine government was closely monitoring the situation especially with the United States-South Korea naval exercises taking place from November 30 to December 1