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Human Face

‘Rock Solid’: PH’s maritime win vs China

Decades and even centuries from now, Filipinos, it is hoped, would take pride in the fact that their forebears did not merely loll leisurely on the shores facing the West Philippine Sea, let go of their claim to territory and surrendered it to China without a fight.

There was a fight! And it took place at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. But, first, it happened in the hearts and minds of those who dared, with former president Benigno Aquino III among the bravehearts.

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Thursday last week, July 12, 2018, marked the second anniversary of the ruling on the Philippines’ case against China that was decided at The Hague tribunal in 2016. The tribunal ruled that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, that China’s “nine-dash line” was invalid, and that China has violated Philippine sovereign rights.

“Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won its Maritime Case Against China,” by multiawarded journalist Marites Dañguilan Vitug, tells the story of the arduous task to defend Philippine sovereignty that ended in victory. Published by Ateneo de Manila University Press, “Rock Solid” was to be launched yesterday, but because of flooding in Metro Manila, the launch had to be postponed. Special invitees were Vice President Leni Robredo, Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio and former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario. The two men were among what Vitug called in the book “the actors.”

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The book is a must-read for the average Filipino with (or without) claims to patriotism, and more importantly for historians, lawyers, academics, politicians, diplomats, educators, journalists. And, yes, the Filipino fishermen whose witness accounts reached The Hague. The book should be read by persons whose hands are on the helm of the ship named Country.

“Rock Solid” is a meticulously researched, magnificent piece of work, like Vitug’s other best-selling books. The book is not difficult to read, because the author, a journalist, knows how to tell a good story that is perked up by true-to-life characters whose thoughts, feelings, strategies and plans of action are laid bare for the reader to appreciate.

In a way, “Rock Solid” is one suspenseful thriller, and it even begins that way. I won’t say how.

The book is divided into four main parts (“The Present and the Past,” “Factors that Matter,” “The Main Actors” and “The Case”) that consist of 22 chapters. Vitug’s comprehensive account traces the recent history of the Philippines’ maritime claims, delves into the various issues that affected the dispute, and presents the main actors and key arguments that culminated in the epic legal victory of a David against a Goliath. The Philippines’ territorial claim prevailed over that of China.

Good backgrounders are the chapters “American Conundrum” and “The Asean Dance with China.”

Interesting for me is Chapter 19, “A ‘Constitution for the Oceans,’” which was how the oft-heard Unclos or UN Convention on the Law of the Sea began as a speck in the ocean in 1967. For its signing in 1982, the Philippines even sent a delegation. Fast forward to 2016, Unclos would be at the center of the arbitration case—“this small country’s anchor” and “weapon” when it haled China to court. (China refused to participate and called the Philippines the “real troublemaker.”)

But the action—legally, that is—is in the latter chapters. These, too, are page-turners. “The Itu Aba Twist” chapter, for example, can set off some chuckles, if not laughter. (Vitug has a signature laugh, by the way, that can crack up a room.)

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(Not quite trivia: My name is mentioned on page 24.)

The Epilogue is a letdown because of how The Hague tribunal’s positive ruling that was hailed by nations was limply received by the 2-week-old Duterte government in 2016. No drumrolls and trumpet blasts. The new leader would rather dance with the Yonder Peril, the territory-eating dragon across the sea. He is now two years into the dance.

But remember this: The rock-solid victory is for all time.

For now, the book is sold at the Ateneo Press, Fully Booked, Ayala Museum, Solidaridad and Popular Bookstores.

Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com

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TAGS: China, Philippines, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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