Ambassador ‘Dodong’ Encomienda and his love for the archipelago

MY friend and colleague Ambassador Alberto Encomienda, a career diplomat known to relatives and friends as Dodong, passed away on Boxing Day on December 26, 2021, succumbing to a heart attack while sitting in front of the television. He was probably watching the news about how the surviving victims of Typhoon “Odette” (international name: “Rai”) spent their Christmas.

As we belonged to different groups of foreign service officers reviewed and entered the service at different times, we never served in the same country except once, when we were both assistant secretaries and that he was finishing a stint at the Ministry of the Interior and that I was starting mine. I only got to know him well after we retired and joined the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc. (PAFI). I then shared his plea for PAFI to make his main concern – raising awareness among Filipinos that they live in an archipelago called the Philippines. It is a fundamental fact which should condition their efforts at nation-building and external relations.

It was the first and only time that our work at the Home Office overlapped; Dodong was the very first head of the Oceanic and Maritime Affairs Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DFA). One can only wonder why the country took so long to set up such an office at the FDFA. Why did the Filipinos not understand earlier that the oceans play a vital role in their existence as a nation and in their relationships with other countries?

Sea invaders

The founders of the first Philippine Republic were more prescient. By creating a cabinet of ministers to lead the executive power, they merged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Navy. In all likelihood, the inspiration to do so was drawn from knowing their own history. Because the Philippines is an archipelago in the middle of the ocean, the original inhabitants as well as all subsequent foreign invaders came from the sea. One obvious reason President Emilio Aguinaldo entered into an alliance with the United States was that the revolutionary forces did not have a navy to repel Spanish ships carrying reinforcements and supplies.

There are people who wonder why the Philippines was not a sea power because it was an archipelago and so strategically located. Perhaps the reason it hadn’t been is its very nature. Unlike the maritime powers which are land masses with coastlines, the Philippine archipelago consisted of thousands of islands, each surrounded by a body of water. Not only that, the inhabitants of the islands have their own distinct languages ​​and cultures and at the time of colonization, were under separate kingdoms, often at war. The invaders, often in the hundreds, had only to set up kingdom against kingdom, island against island, to subdue hundreds of thousands of natives. The Filipinos thus became, instead of the center of an empire, a colony of successive and exploitative foreign empires.

The Americans who held the Philippines as a colony for half a century were not exempt from the divide and rule syndrome of colonizing powers. The universal primary education system introduced by the United States has separated the mentality of Filipinos from their physical identity. This caused Filipinos to believe and behave as if they were creatures of a landmass. The Americans “pacified” the people of Mindanao so much that some Sultans and Datus were clamoring to remain a colony of the United States instead of being part of an independent republic. But what seems to have earned Dodong an eternal distrust of American policy towards the Philippines is the opposition of the United States to the archipelagic doctrine proposed by the Philippines during the conferences which developed this which today is considered the constitution of the oceans, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

“Archipelagic doctrine”

Until Dodong did the considerable work to establish the Office of Oceans and Maritime Affairs, the DFA treated the subject of this office as legal issues to be referred to the Office of Legal Affairs. As an officer member of the latter office, he was sent as a member of the Philippine delegation to Unclos meetings to assist the head of the delegation, the late Senator Arturo Tolentino. Dodong idolized Senator Tolentino for spawning the “Archipelagic Doctrine” and getting it approved as an integral provision of the Unclos despite the objection of a maritime superpower. His incorporation of Archipelagic doctrine was the reason Dodong was such a strong supporter of the convention. Without the Unclos layout, foreign ships can sail between all of the Philippine islands without worrying about the word and the effects on the country.

After having obtained worldwide recognition of the unity of an archipelago as an entity of international law, it was, according to Dodong, the primary task of the country to translate this unity of law into a de facto unity through local governance. binding the diverse peoples on its thousands of islands as a peaceful and progressive nation, and international leadership especially in matters peculiar to its archipelago.

In addition to providing coastal states with exclusive economic zones and continental shelves, over which they have sovereign rights over the exploitation of their resources, mineral and living, Unclos calls on the neighboring coastal states with a closed or semi-closed sea. -closed to protect the marine environment, in particular its living resources and their habitats. Because these resources are a matter of life and death for many people who depend on them for their food and livelihoods, the application of the Unclos is of existential importance to Filipinos. This is why Dodong pleaded for the Philippines to play a leading role in the establishment of a system of ocean governance in Asean focused on the application of the provisions of the Unclos in the region. PAFI, at the instigation of Dodong, suggested to the Philippine delegation to make it the leading cause of its Asean presidency. But the delegation had other ideas, choosing instead the drug problem as the focus. Had it followed Dodong’s suggestion, the Philippine presidency would have left behind a more relevant and lasting legacy for the region.

Center of Excellence on Climate Change

In what would prove to be the final phase of his life, Dodong focused on studying the effects of climate change on the Philippine archipelago. As he wanted the Philippines to take a leadership role in ocean governance, Dodong envisioned the Philippines to become a center of excellence in climate change mitigation and adaptation in Southeast Asia. The Philippines, as an archipelago, is the most vulnerable to climate change and is a microcosm of the adverse effects that climate change can bring to the maritime region of Southeast Asia. Just as being an archipelago is a given in the life of the country, climate change will be for the archipelago in the future.

The United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change of 1919 set a target of reducing the rate of global temperature increase from 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. Achieving this target means that climate change will stabilize. It is not known by how much the global temperature will have increased each year and what untold disasters will have struck the Philippines by then. The Philippines is expected to have been visited by frequent typhoons, some of unprecedented ferocity and destruction, several islands may have been inundated by rising sea levels. Unless some magical technology is invented to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, the suffering of people due to climate change can only be alleviated, and people even in poor countries with little or no capacity to do so must adapt to its adverse effects. .

To begin with, Dodong imagined a real center with at least four walls where, for example, climatology specialists who will define the problem of typhoons in terms of wind speed per kilometer and their effects on the inhabitants of the localities they pass through, meet architects and engineers who will explore solutions to the problems described. Perhaps they will come up with a model of an ordinary man’s house adapted to climate change. Urban planners will be invited to discuss how to improve planning of coastal cities taking into account the imperatives of climate change. Or, take the rise in ocean level. The climatologist needs to figure out how much the ocean around an island will rise, then engineers can determine how high coastal roads need to be built to avoid flooding. Again, architects and planners could present a model of home and community in the face of rising sea levels. And there should finally be stakeholders in the public and private sectors to assess the viability of the proposed solutions.

As the deputy secretary for ocean and maritime affairs with a coordinating role among the many scattered agencies dealing with ocean and maritime affairs, Dodong was not very popular. He was often the target of attacks from agencies concerned about their territory. A government ministry rejected Dodong’s proposal for a center of excellence because it is already included in its action plan. Dear readers, have you heard any whispers about launching any plan on climate change? In a country in reality managed mainly by the private sector, can the private sector be outside the loop?

Sometimes I think of my friend Ambassador Alberto Encomienda as a sort of Don Quixote carrying Poseidon’s rake to the horizon beyond the seas, regardless of the applause or tirades of others, but only his notion. what his beloved archipelago needs.

Edward K. Thompson