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Independence means defense of WPS

opinion / Editorial
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Editorial

Independence means defense of WPS

/ 12:36 AM June 12, 2017

The nation’s attention is riveted to the beautiful but now heavily damaged city of Marawi, hopeful that the Armed Forces would meet its self-imposed deadline of clearing the storied place of Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists by Independence Day. The scale of the destruction, the magnitude of the displacement, the lengthening list of the military’s dead—these are a source of deep concern for all Filipinos, whether supportive of the imposition of martial law or not.

We understand the military’s choice of deadline; completing the campaign on the day we remember the country’s birth as an independent nation is genuine symbolism—the same kind that animates our armed services’ dedication to flag and Constitution.

But it is not only those who serve the country in uniform who have the responsibility, in the words of the people’s preamble to that same Constitution, to “secure to ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of independence and democracy.” The fourth principle on which our constitutional order is based recognizes that that responsibility can extend to citizens rendering “personal, military or civil service.”

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But that fundamental responsibility includes much more than just military service. This is the context, the philosophy of citizenship, behind Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio’s urgent challenge to all Filipinos to exercise our “civic duty” and defend the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

We are not being called to take up arms, because we have renounced war as an instrument of national policy, because China is a military power, and because the Duterte administration’s “we either talk or we go to war” policy is a false choice. There are other ways to defend Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea.

But one thing must be clear, to all Filipinos, whether they support the current administration or long for the previous one, whether they believe the Americans are manipulating the strings or China’s extreme nationalism is a substitute for the ruling communist party’s abandonment of communism: China’s aggressive expansionism in the South China Sea means it will take over or assume control of as much as 80 percent of our exclusive economic zone (in itself larger than the country’s total land area) and 100 percent of our extended continental shelf. As Justice Carpio writes, “This Chinese aggression is the gravest external threat to the Philippines since World War II.”

This form of aggression is based on the ridiculous nine-dash line China first put forward only in 1947, and it is a claim resoundingly rejected by the arbitral tribunal ruling on the landmark Philippines vs China case in 2016. Any historic rights China may have enjoyed have been superseded by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; this claim is incompatible with the Convention; not least, there is no real evidence supporting China’s claim that it had historically exercised control over the extremely large area defined by the nine-dash line.

In sum, all Filipinos—and citizens of other countries adversely affected by China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea—can rejoice in the tribunal’s sweeping judgment. As far as the Philippines is concerned, the judgment allows the country to exercise its rights over most of its exclusive economic zone and all of its extended continental shelf.

How do we defend these rights then? First, we must reject the narrative of fear and smallness: We may be a small country compared to China, but we have the law (and the support of the international community) on our side. How sad to see Filipino lawyers argue that the legal victory we won cannot be enforced. As recent history should tell us, it is in fact possible for smaller nations (e.g., the Netherlands, Mauritius, Nicaragua) to force much larger countries
(e.g., Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States) to substantially satisfy the requirements of international justice. Second, we must encourage the strengthening of our alliances—with the Asean, with our traditional allies, with our defense treaty partners. Third, we must seek to engage
China. At the turn of the 20th century, Chinese democrats learned important lessons from the Philippine Revolution. As friends, we have much to teach each other.

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TAGS: Independence Day, Marawi, martial law
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