Since 1975, the Philippines has consistently upheld the "One-China policy" as the governing principle of Philippine-Chinese diplomatic relations. Philippine support of the policy was first established in the Philippine-China Joint Communique of June 9, 1975, in which the Philippines clearly stated that it "recognizes the Government of the People's Republic as the sole legal government of China, fully understands and respects the position of the Chinese Government that there is but one China and that Taiwan is an integral part of Chinese territory[.]"
The One-China policy, or yī gè Zhōngguó zhèngcè, is a viewpoint that recognizes China as a one-state entity that comprises the People's Republic of China (PROC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan). As a prophylactic measure, the PROC mandates that countries seeking diplomatic relations with it must sever official ties with Taiwan. Additionally, such countries may not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state.
The most significant executive enactment pursuant to the One China policy in the Philippines is Executive Order No. 313. Enacted by President Corazon Aquino in December 1987, the order "prohibits" Philippine government officials from visiting Taiwan, receiving visits from Taiwanese officials, or conducting any "official activity" without the clearance of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
These provisions were subsequently clarified by Memorandum Circular No. 148, which provided that "the restriction on travel to Taiwan and on contact with representatives of Taiwan should apply strictly to the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of National Defense." The Circular also required Philippine officials travelling to Taiwan to inform the DFA of the purpose of their visit and mandated that such officials would only be permitted the use of their ordinary passports while traveling — as opposed to officials being free to use governmental papers or official titles abroad.
This adherence to the One-China policy results in the virtual non-existence of Taiwan as an international state from the legal perspective of the Philippine government. It follows, then, that there can be no official diplomatic relations between the two countries. And while Taiwan does not have a diplomatic mission to the Philippines, it does have a "representative office" in Manila: the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO). TECO functions as a venue to promote bilateral trade, investment, culture, exchange and cooperation with the Philippines. However, TECO also performs many of the functions of an embassy, such as offering assistance to Taiwanese nationals or issuing passports and visas. A total of 60 countries have a TECO or other similar office in their territory representing Taiwan, including the US, the UK, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Spain, Australia, and Saudi Arabia.
The Philippine counterpart of TECO in Taiwan is the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), which was established in 1975 and is organized as a private, non-profit corporation under Philippine law. Its purpose is to promote trade, investment, tourism and cooperation with Taiwan. Similar to the TECOs around the world, MECO performs services reguarly associated with a diplomatic consulate — such as assisting Filipino nationals in Taiwan, issuing visas and notarizing documents. The organizational predecessor of MECO was the Asian Exchange Center, Inc. (ASECTAI), which was placed under the direct supervision of the Office of the President on January 16, 1984, when President Ferdinand Marcos enacted Executive Order No. 931.
However, control of the organization as either ASECTAI or MECO has oscillated over the past two decades between the DFA and the office of the president. Executive Order No. 490 (EO 490), which was enacted by President Corazon Aquino in November 1991, returned supervision of MECO to the DFA. However, the administration of President Joseph Estrada enacted Executive Order No. 4 in July 1998, which reversed the effect of EO 490 by mandating that operational supervision and control over MECO shall be under the Office of the President. It further mandated that the MECO shall report directly to the Office of the Executive Secretary. Estrada further clarified the bounds of this return to executive supervisory authority through Executive Order No. 229. Moreover, it wasn't until until the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that many of the various functions of MECO were expressly authorized. Arroyo enacted Executive Order No. 15 in May 2001, which was the first instance where the consular and business functions of MECO were provided for at law.
While the Philippines and Taiwan certainly have a mutual presence in each other's territory through MECO and TECO, respectively, this cannot be construed as the establishment of official relations between the two countries. We observe that in each of the above-mentioned executive orders, the Philippine government's commitment to the One-China policy is expressly mentioned.
In fact, the Philippines has consistently acted in accord with the policy through a number of state actions in recent years. In June 2010, the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry refused to endorse a bilateral free trade agreement with Taiwan. In February 2011, Philippine authorities deported 14 Taiwanese nationals suspected of committing fraudulent activities in the Philippines. This was a particularly dicey political issue at the time as the Philippines deported the Taiwanese nationals to the PROC and not to Taiwan. This move angered Taiwan, which recalled its envoy to the Philippines and temporarily stopped processing all work applications from Filipinos to Taiwan. In March of 2012, House of Representatives Committee Chair on Foreign Relations, Hon. Rep. Al Francis Bichara, adopted House Resolution No. 2001, recognizing the initiative of MECO and TECO in establishing a Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement. This move was considered untenable by the DFA, as it constituted an implied recognition of Taiwan as a separate sovereign state.
Viewed as a whole, Philippine foreign policy has been consistent with the One-China policy for almost 40 years.
Edsel Tupaz was a private prosecutor of the House prosecution panel in the recently concluded impeachment trial of Philippine Chief Justice Renato Corona. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Ateneo Law School. Tupaz is a public interest lawyer and law professor whose expertise lies in comparative constitutional law and policy, teaching at law schools in the US and the Philippines.
Ira Paulo Pozon is Head of the Vice Presidential Special Concerns Unit of the Vice President of the Philippines. He also serves as Legal Counsel and International Relations Officer to the Vice President. He acquired his MBA from the De La Salle University and his Juris Doctor from the Far Eastern University. His interests lie in corporate law, banking, trade and investment law, and international relations. He currently teaches at the College of Law of the University of the City of Manila.
Suggested citation: Edsel Tupaz & Ira Paulo Pozon, Philippine Consistency: The One-China Policy, JURIST - Sidebar, August 9, 2012, http://jurist.org/sidebar/2012/07/tupaz-pozon-one-china.php.
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