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Philippines’s win in arbitration case will level playing field in sea row, think tank says

Vessels of the Philippine Navy and the United States 7th Fleet steam in formation in South China Sea during exercise Balikatan 2010. US Navy/Mark Alvarez, file

MANILA, Philippines — A favorable ruling for the Philippines on the South China Sea will reinforce a non-military scenario and lead the way toward further diplomacy, a think tank said.

“If we get the verdict we expect, it is imperative to cull the best thinking on different post-arbitration scenarios and initiate dialogue on strategically approaching geopolitical, economic, and social changes in the region,” said Dindo Manhit, president of the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi).

According to Manhit, the Philippines should capitalize on the international interest in the case to gain international support, drawing strong statements from other countries.

“While we pursue diplomatic initiatives, the Philippines needs to take steps to protect itself from any adverse Chinese reaction,” said Manhit. 

“On a medium term, we need to make peace and foster a new era of engagement with China based on mutual respect and the rule of international law,” he added.

Stratbase ADRi Trustee and International Criminal Court Justice Raul Pangalangan said the arbitration case was a “game changer” for the country.

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“In a David versus Goliath scenario, the Philippines would have been helpless; by filing the case, we have shifted it from a two-party settlement and submitted it to a third-party decision-maker in the tribunal,” he said.

While the case undermined the military aspect of the conflict, it highlighted the primacy of international law, providing a venue for alliance-building, Pangalangan said.

“It will provide our neighbors in Asia and our allies abroad a neutral ground upon which to take a position on the issue. In other words, without states saying ‘China is right’ or ‘Philippines is right,’ we provide even the erstwhile hesitant ASEAN states an opportunity to take a decision without riling China’s sensitivities,” he said.

However, getting other more capable countries involved in the case may further complicate the dispute, said ADRi Trustee Renato de Castro.

The Philippines forged stronger ties with Japan and the US to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea through unified defense cooperation of the three countries.

ADRi noted that China may become more “belligerent” and “uncompromising” in dealing with the Philippines if both the US and Japan will intervene.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration under the United Nations will issue its ruling on Manila's case against the nine-dash line claim of Beijing in the South China Sea on July 12. 

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