Tag Archives: international relations

Unforgettable Trip to South Korea part 3

(c) Atty. Jeremy Gatdula of the UA&P School of Law and Governance.

(c) Atty. Jeremy Gatdula of the UA&P School of Law and Governance.

Wildy (my roommate) and I were wandering around Seoul’s vast train station. I’ve only been there twice yesterday and couldn’t figure out if I would be able to know if we were riding the right train to Kintex. Good thing, the signs were written in both Hangul and English. Wildy and I just had to know which side to enter, the several transfers we had to make and made sure that we drop by the correct station. Simple as it seemed, it gave us a lot of headaches in the first few days.

When I arrived at Kintex, delegates were already debating. I wanted to panic but I knew I had to arrive calmly and silently. I sat at the back with Guinea Bissau and another European dude. I didn’t have the chance to talk to them as much. I was immediately immersed into the conference proceedings. There’s already a whole bunch of people in the speaker’s list (the list of people who will be speaking as recognized by the Chair). If I remember it correctly, delegates were giving speeches on proposed solutions to the conflict in Bosnia. I observed first, took notes and tried to group arguments whether they were for diplomatic solutions, military intervention, humanitarian relief or other forms of political dialogue.

Our committee was composed of around 150+ single delegates (countries were represented by pair in other committees). It was a little tricky but exciting. Its called the Historical General Assembly where we went back to 1995 when the Bosnian Crisis was happening. We had to provide recommendations to the Security Council or provide peaceful mechanisms to end the conflict. The challenge was to keep certain facts given the hindsight of what happened and act as if we were at the moment. Precisely on May 1995 when UNPROFOR troops were captured and there was an impending genocide in Srebrenica. It was expected of us, if it not being our moral obligation, to make better decisions than what was made by policy-makers then. We’re doing it in real time and quiet a few moments we got updates on the ground such as Canadian Forces between captured by Serb paramilitary forces. What we were going to do and how it would impact the flow of the proceedings, were basically up to us to decide.

GIVING A SPEECH

We were about an hour into the formal session. Somehow the discussion leaned towards the establishment of schools and provision of peace education. At that time, I found the opportunity to speak up. I got included in the speaker’s list. The first speech that I delivered was nerve-wrecking. I was planning to make a written speech but my hand was shaking that I couldn’t even write. Since computer was not permitted during formal session, I couldn’t type. When my name was called, I stood and got into the podium with whatever I had.

The first few sentences were the most difficult to start with. I saw the whole committee in its full glory and felt as if all eyes were piercing through me. Well in the middle of the speech, I just stopped caring about it as I wanted to end my ordeal. The point I wanted to raise was that the talk on education, infrastructure and health were long term goals. While they were necessary, the first thing we had to do was to make sure that conflicting parties would sit in the negotiating table, put down their arms and determine ways to create peace in Bosnia. It was only when there’s peace that public institutions can be built and strengthened to serve the people.

DIFFICULTY WITH LOBBYING

When I came back into my seat, notes started coming in. People were asking to form coalitions or to have lunch together and begin drafting a resolution paper. I didn’t realized then how fast moving WorldMUN was like. It was because the sessions were dominated by moderated caucuses that new ideas are being brought forth every time. There was also not much time for lobbying and resolution writing during sessions as we’re always on a moderated caucus.

I was used to the system in the Philippine MUNs where we had long unmoderated caucuses that allow me to help write resolutions and roam around the conference venue to lobby. Here, the only way I could lobby was either to pass notes (and not listen to speeches which I found important even if I didn’t agree with some people) or do it during lunch breaks. Evenings were impossible since I went to socials and I was staying in Myeongdong, which was an hour and a half away from Kintex.

The bigger challenge here was how to convince people. Eloquent lip service would lead to nowhere. A lot of delegates demanded substance. Many were brave enough to be on their own because they didn’t agree with the points raised by most delegates in the committee. The mix of delegates were simply amazing. A lot of delegates in my committee were either doing their masters or in their latter years as undergraduate students or taking Juris Doctor program (there were PhD students in other committees). We had students from Sciences Po, Korea University, University of Cape Town, Sydney, Adelaide, Kyoto, Waseda, Georgetown, Yale and NUS to name a few. The veterans and very successful delegations in past conferences were the Universidad Simon Bolivar and Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Venezuela), American Military Academy at Westpoint, American University of Beirut, London School of Economics and MUN Society Belgium (included some notable universities like the Free University of Brussels and Catholic University of Leuven). Apart from learning during conference proper, it was the friendship and network that you build with these people that would last beyond the conference itself.

FORMING ALLIANCES

The morning of the second day already had a lot of action. The bigger action was happening unnoticed because they were done through note passing. People were already forming alliances and had plans to reconcile their ideas during lunch. I was hesitant to give people a yes in joining their working group. I was still testing the waters and see which working group could accommodate my national interest and where I could contribute most productively.

The Chair then called for a short unmoderated caucus. Delegates grouped in circles inside and outside the room. I was going back and forth between those circles and listening to people sharing their ideas.

Some delegates were very smart that they were already consolidating ideas from other delegates. It only took a laptop or a notebook and patient listening to collate all the ideas of the group. These people acted as moderators in the discussion, listening more and clarifying arguments than making their own. That didn’t mean that they don’t have arguments and positions. It’s just that they let people to speak out and, later on, add their ideas in the resolution. They acted as gatekeepers who determined which ideas could make through the resolution and which would not. In that way, they were solidifying their leadership step by step. Brilliant strategy!

There I was on the side observing the groups. Obviously, groups could be very big that there were people who couldn’t speak and felt left out. Those were the people I liked to be with. In local conferences, that was how I formed alliances. Having observed around, I could look for people who had similar national interests with me and whose personalities matched with mine. In that way I was able to have few and select people to work with. It is easier to produce a resolution when all people are doing the job. They are committed and passionate to defend the resolution because they contributed in writing it. In big working groups, not everyone have the opportunity to do so. Essentially, alliances in small working groups can be stronger and more stable than bigger ones. Resolutions can be refined later or half of it could be scrapped, but the important thing is to have a resolution done immediately to allow more time to furnish it.

Another problem with haphazardly selecting allies is that differences fundamentally resting on national interests would surface sooner or later (unless one is inclined not to follow his or her national interest). Conflict of personality would strangle resolution writing as the group would be more engage on unnecessary arguments than constructive, meaningful and efficient conciliation of national (and, yes, individual) interests.

I wouldn’t say that I got this strategy head on. I was frustrated the first day because I couldn’t find an ally. I tried forming alliances several times with this or that delegate only to break down immediately. Some delegates were so blunt giving a note to me and saying that they wouldn’t want to work with me anymore because my ideas simply wouldn’t work. Inside my mind I wanted to BS that person but I had to keep my cool because I didn’t go there as a judo player or trash talker or boxer-like-Mayweather. I was there to act like a diplomat. Ergo, I had to be diplomatic.

I honestly found those statements sarcastic. A lot of Filipinos and Asians in general don’t usually put disagreements into the open, like telling people you don’t agree with them in the face. We’re into euphemisms. Many Europeans and Americans are straightforward. WorldMUN taught me to better understand where people’s actions were coming from, either from their culture, experiences or upbringing which could be markedly different from mine. I think every delegate and world leaders, in reality, have to deal with a lot of people different from theirs. Or worst they don’t like. Putin and Obama everyone?

To think of it, dealing with people different from myself or I didn’t like was a little price to pay if children in Bosnia was to feel safe in their homes, a wife relieved knowing her husband has been released from concentration camp, a girl unafraid of being raped by soldiers who wanted to get even on their enemies or a student my age could finally walk free, live free and enjoy life because there’s peace and a prosperous future to look forward to.

At WorldMUN, delegates are being trained to make those sacrifices to better the lives of many people around world. Such an important lesson for everyone to learn in order to make WorldMUN life changing indeed.

————-
Part 4 to follow.

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Unforgettable Trip to South Korea Part 1

Wow! Just can’t imagine how long it has been since my last blog post. It feels so strange to write a blog again and seems like I have to re-learn how to post! So much has happened and it’s tricky to determine one event that made the most impact in my life since my last post. There are a number of them and I guess I’ll have several posts on that.

Perhaps one of the highlights of my life recently was the Harvard World Model United Nations (WorldMUN) that I’ve attended last March in Seoul. Model United Nations is a simulation of the proceedings in the United Nations and, sometimes, conferences include other notable international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Union (EU) and even the Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China. Simulations allow students to get a glimpse of the policy-making process and engage in debates, coalition building, research, resolution writing and many more.

WorldMUN claims to be the olympics of MUN. While I could not compare it to other international MUNs because it was the only one I have attended (I have attended a few local MUNs), I should say that it was the most intense MUN I’ve been to. Imagine having 2,400 undergraduate and graduate students from 118 countries participating in the conference. Each student brings with them their worldview, shaped by their own culture, education and experiences in life. That enriches the debates and the proceedings of the conference. It is just amazing to debate on pressing issues with some of world’s top students.

This year, the conference lasted for 5 days from March 16 to 20, 2015. There were more than 20 committees. I was assigned as a single delegate at the Historical General Assembly where the topic touched on the Bosnian Crisis.

 

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ROAD TO HARVARD WORLDMUN 2015

Probably many would think of the difficulty that went into the 5 days of the conference, but that was just a tip of the iceberg. There were so many things that went before the conference proper. The weekly trainings, the research, the struggle of juggling between MUN and demanding academic and org responsibilities, raising money for the trip and basically planning the whole thing; those needed a lot of effort, patience and determination.

It was so funny how I got into WorldMUN and MUN in general. I saw a link on Facebook around November, I think, and I tagged the Secretary General of the university’s MUN, Nic Espinoza, and another brilliant MUN dude, Jian Manjares. 

Nic and Jian got so excited that the comments section of the post seemed to have burst with their enthusiasm. I didn’t get the MUN fever then, but after talking to Nic and the people who were doing MUNs in the university later on, I realized how fun and fulfilling it could be.

The road to WorldMUN introduced me to local conferences as well. The first one I’ve attended was BenildeMUN 2014, the oldest MUN in the country, hosted by (as the name suggests) the De La Salle College of St. Benilde. I didn’t know what to expect and I had to observe and look at how people worked. From then I took off and became more comfortable doing the next 2 local conferences that I would be attending: Ateneo MUN and De La Salle MUN.

When it came to preparation, I had to thank Nic for his commitment. There were times when the whole delegation would not take trainings seriously. One saturday Nic could not attend training because he had class. So what we did, to his disappointment, was sneaked in and just watch a movie about Kim Jong Un (whatever that was!). Despite being jackasses sometimes, Nic perservered and made sure we could get the best training we could have, given our limitations (in time, knowledge, etc.). So much respect for the guy.

The other members of the delegation were no less than inspiring. We had a bunch of delegates from first to fifth year in the university. I was impressed how the younger members of the delegation took the role of playing diplomats seriously, discussing international issues passionately and critically. We’re each other’s biggest supporter and staunchest critic at the right time. Being a latecomer in the MUN team, I had to ask questions, strategies and rules of procedures from younger batchmen and women. In universities, senior students often act superior to younger students. But in our delegation, we’re like friends. Our relationships were not anchored on hierarchies. I’m also thankful to Dr. de Leon for giving me a few insights to help me in my research.

WORLDMUN 2015 APPROACHING

The day we’ve been waiting for and, I’m quiet scared of, came at last. It was 8:30 p.m. and I was standing in front of the Department of Education’s (DepEd) HQ and couldn’t get a taxi!

I was freaking out because like in previous foreign trips (I only had two by the way before Seoul), I knew that one was expected to come 3 hours earlier before departure time. The departure time in my case is 12 am. Since I couldn’t get a taxi in DepEd, I took all my baggages and went to Escriva Drive which was on the other end of the village where I lived. No one will know how much uncomfortable it was to me. I’ve already worn my thermals to prepare for the cold because I didn’t want to change clothes in the plane. Imagine me walking from one end of the village to another, carrying all my baggage and wearing 1 layer of winter clothes in sweltering tropical heat! That was insane.

When I got a taxi, I was sweating like crazy. I wanted to remove my shirt but thank goodness the taxi was airconditioned so I didn’t have to. The thing was, the sweat dried up and further put stress to my already sickly body. Days before leaving for Seoul, I was doing my fieldwork for thesis and had an exam. Well, I was a little sickly for the rest of the trip in Korea because of all that. Fail!

I arrived at the airport around 9:30 pm, not well into the 3 hour time I thought needed for an international flight. After checking in, I met Mandy and we went to Starbucks at the airport where Alec was staying. Wildy came in later. Nic followed. These people would be my laughing buddies for the rest of the trip.

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JUST LANDED IN KPOP LAND

We arrived in South Korea early in the morning and it was -2 C. I was freezing. That was my first time in a cold country. But that didn’t bother me so much because South Korea was beautiful. I seemed to have forgotten that I was cringing due to the cold.

 

 

Their infrastructure, their roads in particular was wide, no traffic, and the bridges and all construction works extended as long as the eyes could see. “This was what development was like”, I thought to myself.

The moment we arrived at the inn, we just changed clothes and went out for sight seeing. Some delegates attended a Catholic mass. Unfortunately, I found it hard to find an English Christian service around the area even after asking the concierge at the inn and looking online. So I decided to go with Mandy and Alec. We went to Myeongdong and took breakfast somewhere in the narrow back alleys we’ve explored. Alec ordered bibimbap, Mandy some yellow soup or porridge (I guess) and I got noodles. Finally we were able to taste Korean cuisine in Korea. 

Afterwards, we went around Myeongdong, in the shopping areas. It was fascinating because high end shops had their own individual buildings and small stalls occupied the middle of the streets a la cleaner version of Divisoria x Greenbelt in the Philippines.

Honestly though, I prefer to shop in the Philippines where our malls are like EVERYTHING. Foreigners who’ve been to the Philippines would know. The high end or low end stuff will depend on which mall you go into. And for me its more easier to navigate around our malls because all the smaller shops are there. In South Korea, the malls I’ve been too were practically the department stores we have here. Just one component of our malls.

This is my opinion though. Maybe other people prefer the way it is done in South Korea or the country has more than what I’ve explored.

SOME REALIZATION AND FIRST DAY OF CONFERENCE

When I was in South Korea, I had some inner urge to speak Tagalog rather than English. Growing up I used to speak only in Tagalog. But when I went to college, I still spoke in Tagalog frequently but English basically was the first language that I was using. Honestly, I have to admit, that unfortunately, English is viewed in the Philippines (like in many countries) as more sophisticated, it’s thought to be cool and signifies higher social status and education.

In South Korea, I felt pride in speaking a language I can call my own. People there spoke Korean and, to some extent, English. 

Later in the conference, people spoke a whole lot more languages. Some I didn’t even know to have existed! The first day, there were multitudes of people in Kintex. People of all colors and languages. Undergraduate and Graduate students from 118 countries. Imagine that! I met people from Canada, South Africa, Indonesia, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, Britain, Italy, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, India, Taiwan, France, Belgium, Spain, United States, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom and Mexico. That was just during the first day. During the orientation!

In that situation, I felt pride in speaking a language that only I and the people from my country understood. It differentiated me and the Filipinos from other people in the conference. The feeling of having your own identity and unique characteristic seemed to have electrified me deep into my bones. Although with UA&P delegates I still spoke in Tag-lish (Tagalog x English) most of the time, I’ve never felt as proud of my language and as proud of being a Filipino than when I was in South Korea.

Funnily, I had to leave for a moment during the orientation because I forgot my wallet in the café near Daehwa train station (thank God I got it back).

In that short amount of time though, I had some time to reflect. I sensed an irony. Despite being proud of my country, language and culture, I was surprised how shocked I was by the multitude of people and felt intimidated talking to other delegates, especially to Americans and Europeans. I didn’t think they were imposing their superiority as what colonizers did to Filipinos in the past. It was my own conception of inferiority (and I believe its true for many, not all,  delegates from developing countries) that made me feel no good compared to them.

As I continued walking towards the café, I further held on that thought. Looking back though, there was a lingering thought inside me thinking that hierarchy is not an ever present reality, its a choice. Sometimes it is us who impose it on ourselves. 

There was also something in my mind that I learned from long ago, that diversity is a strength rather than a weakness. That all individuals are endowed by God with potentials. That not one of us are the same. That all of us are created different. And that difference is designed to complement than to spark conflict with one another. That no one is too big or too small because of his race, religion, culture and language. What defines us is the amount of determination we have, the way we treat other people, and the passsion we have in whatever we do.

WorldMUN is a wonderful opportunity for many of us to overcome that fear of being different. WorldMUN is where people are given the chance to understand the beauty that lies in the diversity of people around the world. WorldMUN is where young people can channel their desires of making a difference in the world and put them into action.

I got my wallet back and walked toward Kintex. I haven’t fully grasped the reasons to overcome my fears, but I got part of the answer that would guide me in the next four days of the conference.

———-

Part 2 to follow.

A look into China: from Culture to International Relations

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(I have been busy reading for my research method class. I am working on a research proposal regarding the Impact of WTO membership to China’s development. And I am yet to find a research gap for my proposal. There are just a lot of books and journals to read. But, honestly, as much as I dread reading all of them, they’re quite fascinating. Especially that I’m into China a lot.

After reading I thought of sleeping already. But I suddenly have the mood to write. And I like to write about China. So here you go—what I squeezed from the last threads of my brain!)

China and the Philippines have not been in friendliest terms since last year’s standoff in the West Philippine Sea. Yet despite of all that is going on in our two countries’ relationship, my fascination to China—to its culture, history and people—does not changed.

Chinese culture for me is just so rich, so colorful and so diverse. The intricate designs in their pottery and clothing as well their spoken and written language tell much about the antiquity and sophistication of Chinese culture. Their architecture which stresses on harmony with nature and of the people living in it interests me a lot. It tells a lot about the fact that human beings are interconnected with nature. And the more we fashion our buildings and our homes with nature, the more livable they become.

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And of course their language for me is really awesome. The first time I heard it as a child, I thought it was strange and I laughed hard at the accent and the pronunciation. In fact, growing up, it was a joke among my friends that you are Chinese when you speak gibberish. But growing up, I realized how beautiful it is. The words are seemed to be pronounced with adequate pauses. Chinese people also seem not to bend their faces too much when they’re speaking. It was a joke in one documentary that I watched quite a long time ago that the Chinese looked younger than Americans because they don’t pressure themselves too much when speaking. That means that they use less facial muscles when they’re speaking, only their mouth. So they tend to be younger looking!

In talking about China, I cannot omit or even neglect in smallest terms my admiration for their history. China is the only ancient civilization that has survived up to this day. Great empires like Rome, the Aztecs and the Greeks have come and gone. But China has remained intact. A lot of it has to do, in the words of Martin Jacques, with the Han identity. And I believe in that.

In the duration of Chinese history, they have produced great minds; poets, scientists, political leaders and great warriors. In fact, I was surprised how the very few people like Marco Polo and some Christian missionaries during the medieval period had actually come to admire Chinese thinkers like Confucius and Lao Tzu. At that time, China’s Yuan dynasty was an advanced civilization, a far cry from Europe which was by then in its Dark Ages.

It would take around half a millennium before Europe would beat China. In fact, even as late as the 18th century, China still accounted for one third of the world economy.

I could not forget the story of how the British ambassador to China was told that his country’s products were not needed by the Chinese for they produced goods that were more plentiful and superior in quality than their European counterparts.

But years of stagnation, civil war and foreign domination reversed the fortune against China. We now know China as the leading copy cat in the world, producing counterfeited products of all sorts—sometimes making them even better!

And the fall of China is also at the same time when underdevelopment is rampant in the developing world. And I came from one. The Philippines and China have both endured the humiliation of foreign domination and abuses. We both have ups and downs in the second half of the 20th century. And we still have problems like high infant mortality rates, poverty, income inequality, and many hindrances to political rights and freedom among many other issues typical to any developing country.

And I think my fascination for China is related to that fact that both China and the Philippines are developing nations.

So much so that China is growing leaps and bounds—economically, militarily and politically. For me this is an inspiration for Asian nations and to the developing world in general. There might be few developed nations from Asia, Africa and Latin America, but not one is as big and influential as China.

And for this reason I shall say that China should not be feared but rather welcomed.

If our response to China is to run into the clutches of the United States, then we are inviting conflict. China becomes ‘more’ aggressive not when individual nations resist in territorial disputes but when we invite foreign powers into the problem.

That is why I think that we, in Asia have a lot to do to assist China in making it a more responsible member of the international community. We cannot make it responsible if we invite great power politicking. We can only do it if both of us are truly committed to fair dialogue and cooperation.

In that matter, I think the responsibility is far greater for East Asian and Chinese majority countries and territories; Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and to lesser extent, South Korea and Japan. These countries which share a lot in common with China should show the Chinese that a political system and society that respects human freedom and human dignity is the one that flourish and endure. And the Confucian culture which these countries share with China is not in many ways incompatible with democracy.

If we succeed in helping China transform into a vibrant democratic, but distinctly ‘Chinese’ society, then we might avert the wars that has so characterized the rise of emerging superpowers throughout history. If we succeed in doing that, we will be able to continue progress in the region. China, as much as the Philippines, has a lot to profit from it. I believe that if peace and stability in the region will continue, China will progress and in its own pace, democratized — with Chinese characteristics of course.

And for me if regional conflicts would be averted, that means an even greater admiration for countries in Eastern Asia, Philippines and China included of course.

As a starting point, we should remember the old Chinese saying which goes, ‘the Yangtze river becomes wider as it nears the sea’. It implies that we, in the new generation, have become wiser and achieved greater things like the Yangtze which become wider and wider as it approach the sea.

Image from http://www.lovethesepics.com/2011/03/21-stunning-superbly-serene-chinese-gardens/