‘Philippines a willing victim, abettor of China’

Edu Punay, Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
�Philippines a willing victim, abettor of China�
MMDA enforcers remove a banner hanging on a footbridge at the C5-Kalayaan intersection in Taguig yesterday. Similar banners were spotted in at least four other locations, appearing mysteriously on the second anniversary of the Philippines’ victory over China in a landmark arbitration case.
KrisJohn Rosales

2 years after hague ruling

MANILA, Philippines — From being a victor in a legal dispute with China over the latter’s massive maritime claims, the Philippines has become a “willing victim” of the Asian giant’s provocations in the West Philippine Sea and an “abettor” of its expansionism in the region, former foreign affairs chief Albert del Rosario said yesterday.

Speaking at a forum organized to mark the second anniversary of the Philippines’ legal victory against China before a UN-backed arbitral court in The Hague, Del Rosario bewailed Manila’s failure to take advantage of the court ruling to assert its claim as well as discredit China’s position before the international community.

The former foreign affairs chief led the filing of the arbitral case against China in 2013 to contest the latter’s massive nine-dash line claim in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

The tribunal issued a ruling three years later invalidating Beijing’s claim and affirming Manila’s maritime entitlements. The court invoked the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in making the decision.

“On the matter of a country’s character in international affairs, we may say that both the Philippines’ and China’s current positions are less than acceptable. For China, continuing on its current course presents high reputational risks to the history of its good people,” Del Rosario said.

Manila could have used the ruling to obtain and develop the support of many countries “whose principles are aligned with its own and with whom its own voice could be magnified,” he added. “Sadly, however, this was not made to happen.”

With its muscle flexing, China could be considered a bully while its unlawful seizure of others’ properties would make it a “grand larcenist.”

He also called China “an international outlaw” for its refusal to comply with the ruling of the tribunal.

“Where do we go from here? What should we now do as a willing victim and an abettor that has fully embraced our big northern neighbor who is clearly acting as a bully, a grand larcenist and an international outlaw?” he said.

He stressed there is still chance for the Philippines to cultivate support for its position based on the arbitral court ruling.

“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, the path to gaining the support of the community of responsible nations remains. For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, this is the path we must take,” he pointed out.

“As Filipinos we must voice our sentiments to our government and exercise our right to raise our indignation against China,” he said.

“To the deep dismay of our people, however, our government has persisted in allowing China to deprive our citizens of what is ours by continuing to shelve the tribunal outcome. We are still succumbing to threats of force, including a threat of war,” Del Rosario said. He stressed that war – even to China – would not be a good option, based on an observation of professor Amitav Acharya of the American University.

“Its economy is heavily reliant on global trade, including its fuel supply, which needs open shipping lanes such as the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean which are dominated by US naval power,” he said.

Most serious threat

At the same forum, Vice President Leni Robredo said the country is facing its most serious external threat since World War II with China’s unchallenged encroachment on Philippine waters.

But the Philippines’ winning its case has “proved that in keeping peace, the rule of law is a much more potent force than the rule of arms and battleships.”

“Sadly, since then, we have lost that advantage,” Robredo said, referring to the Duterte administration’s not invoking the ruling to challenge China’s expansionism.

“But of all the issues our country faces today, it is the threat to our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, and our people’s security, that is most grave and alarming. They make our current challenges much harder to bear,” she added.

A team from Robredo’s office went to Zambales last week to find a way to assess the needs of Filipino fishermen affected by the conflict at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

“And what is most touching is that they were asking for assurance: that what is ours will remain ours. We wanted them to know that we are aware of their struggles and that we feel their pain,” Robredo said. “This is the time for us to peacefully protest any effort to limit or control movement in these waters. As neighbors and friends, we must stand in opposition to military build-ups in the West Philippine Sea.”

For former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, the Supreme Court (SC) may have to intervene and act on the apparent inaction of the Duterte administration on China’s continuing militarization of the West Philippine Sea.

He was a member of the legal team that won the country’s arbitration case at The Hague. Also part of the team was acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio.

“We are thinking of filing a case before the Supreme Court to compel the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to prove that it has indeed filed any protest against China and pushed for the implementation of the arbitral ruling,” he said.

“The foreign affairs secretary claimed that he has filed many protests against China, but he hasn’t really shown us any specific document where he raised and invoked the decision. So we’re faced with the possibility that the secretary of foreign affairs is lying just to justify the failure to invoke the decision,” he said.

“We’re looking at the possibility that the government’s policy here is one of waiver or estoppel (or abandonment of previous position),” Hilbay stressed.

He also maintained that failure of the administration to defend the national territory, if proven before the SC, would constitute violation of the Constitution.

“The President himself – the highest official of the land – refuses to invoke the decision. The easiest thing to do is just to file a piece of paper, make it public and invoke the decision, but they have never done that. I’d say that’s a culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust,” he claimed.

Hard to impeach

The constitutional law professor, however, admitted that an impeachment case against President Duterte would be “politically difficult” considering the dominance of the administration bloc in the House of Representatives.

The administration, he said, had been remiss in its duty to invoke the nation’s maritime and territorial rights.

The situation, he said, was “very unfortunate to us Filipinos because we’re waiving rights that transcend generations and that involve our maritime security, territorial integrity and of course the sovereignty of the Republic.”

He lamented that China continues to militarize the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea with the Duterte administration looking the other way.

“The government hasn’t taken any step to implement the ruling. In fact, it has taken steps to justify its failure or refusal to implement the ruling. It reflects badly on the administration policy of friendliness because it has made China even more aggressive,” he pointed out.

The former official reiterated his call for the administration to invoke the decision and file a protest against China. He also stressed that Manila’s taking a stronger position against China would not lead to a war, as the latter wouldn’t risk disrupting trade in the region.

Meanwhile, a former senior navy officer called on the government to stick to diplomacy in dealing with China even while building up the navy’s fighting capability.

“In naval warfare there are only two strategies.  It’s either you fight it out or withdraw. That’s it. No other recourse,” Ret. Vice Admiral Emilio Marayag said.

At this time it is best for the Navy to simply avoid any direct naval conflict with China.

Marayag said it would take some time for the Navy, given the pace of its ongoing capability upgrade programs, to be able to gain a respectable status among other navies in the region. But the effort would be worth it, he stressed.

As skipper of a Navy gunboat assigned in the waters around the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), Marayag had employed the “do nothing policy” in dealing with Chinese warships in his jurisdiction.

“It’s better to talk than fight because in fighting nobody wins. We’ll just talk and talk until such time that we are ready to assert our sovereign rights in the region.” With Jaime Laude

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