Do more to enforce ruling
Despite the bogey of war that President Duterte has raised every time China’s transgressions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is brought up, up to 8 out of 10 Filipinos still believe the government should enforce the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that favored the country’s claims over disputed territories in the area.
In two surveys conducted just weeks before the second anniversary of the Court’s decision, 73 and 80 percent of respondents asked by Pulse Asia
and Social Weather Stations, respectively, said Mr. Duterte should assert Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.
Citing loans and investments from China, the President has set aside the ruling, while his Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has declined to show the “50 to 100” protests that he claimed the Philippines has lodged against its northern neighbor. Malacañang’s policy of appeasement appears only to have emboldened China to step up its militarization efforts in the disputed waters, where it has installed military-grade runways, hangars and retractable roofs for anticruise missiles on seized islands. It has also harassed Filipino fishermen in the country’s exclusive economic zone, destroyed reefs and corals, harvested marine resources, and even prevented the Philippine military from erecting shelter from the weather and bringing in supplies for soldiers stationed on Philippine-held shoals.
By setting aside the ruling, the country also stands to lose 130 billion barrels of oil, gas and mineral deposits in the WPS, as well as territories three times the size of Quezon City, warned Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio. Already, “China has been taking half of the annual fish catch in the South China Sea to feed 1.4 billion people,” the magistrate added.
Based on international law, the Philippines’ failure to protest encroachment on its territory is as good as giving it up, Carpio said, adding that the government should file a protest with the United Nations or China itself.
Carpio also debunks the administration’s claim that war is the only other alternative to appeasement, citing the prohibition on war in the Philippine Constitution and the UN Charter.
Instead of playing “willing victim and abettor” to China’s aggressive moves in the WPS, as former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario put it, Carpio has suggested alternative approaches, among them arbitration which, he said, the UN Charter expressly recognizes as a peaceful means of settling disputes. Arbitration is also part and parcel of diplomacy, which the government has repeatedly invoked as the preferred response to China’s willful disregard of the ruling.
Gaining the support of the community of nations is foremost, added Del Rosario, “whether through multilateralism at the UN, or with Asean, or through our bilateral engagements with other states, or an all-out effort in pursuing all of the aforementioned.”
But with the Duterte administration’s defeatist stance over the issue, Carpio said the task of “keeping alive the [arbitral] Award within our country” has fallen on every Filipino … “[who] has a civic duty to preserve and protect the Award so that the next administration can enforce [it].”
It is also every Filipino’s duty, Carpio said, to inform the other peoples of the world “that China’s compliance with the Award is essential to the survival of Unclos as the governing law for the oceans and seas of our planet.” China’s noncompliance would mean the “collapse of the rule of law in the oceans and seas,” he warned. “What will prevail will be the rule of the naval canon.”
The administration’s passive approach to China appears to have roused dissenters to up their game. Last week, huge tarpaulins hailing the Philippines as a province of China were seen hanging from several footbridges in prominent streets in Metro Manila, and even near the airport. For maritime
affairs expert Jay Batongbacal, the mocking tarpaulins mark “a turn in the intensity” of protests against Malacañang’s China policy. “It’s when the people begin to be like that—jovial and jok[ing] about the administration—that signals a loss of support and respect,” he added.
That notion sounds more than plausible, given the overwhelming number of Filipinos who think this administration hasn’t done enough to defend the country’s rights against its bullying neighbor. But will Malacañang even deign to take heed of that ominous public sentiment?
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