MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration has long been pushing the narrative that asserting the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea would result in a war with China.
In one of his taped addresses to the nation, Duterte reiterated this and claimed that there is no other way to make China leave the area except through war.
“Walang iba, giyera lang,” Duterte said last April 19. “We can retake it only by force. There is no way that we can get back the tawag nilang [West] Philippine Sea without any bloodshed.”
(No other way but war … We can retake it only by force. There is no way that we can get back what they call the West Philippine Sea without any bloodshed.)
However, according to University of the Philippines College of Law professor Jay Batongbacal, there are many legal means by which the Philippines can assert its rights over the West Philippine Sea without a single drop of blood being shed.
But how can this be possible in the face of the military might of China?
“Ang strength natin, actually, ay nandoon nga sa batas. As long as our actions, our positions are supported by law, we have the support of the international community at ‘yon ang magke-create ng political and diplomatic leverage,” Batongbacal told Philstar.com.
(Our strength, actually, is with the law. As long as our actions, our positions are supported by law, we have the support of the international community and that is what would create political and diplomatic leverage for us.)
One of the ways he said Manila can assert its rights over Beijing’s intrusion in the West Philippine Sea is for government forces to simply accompany fishermen in the area.
“Aside from sasamahan dapat sila, kahit presence man lang para masigurado na hindi sila hina-harass o hindi sila tinataboy,” Batongbacal said.
(Aside from accompanying them, the government must establish its presence there to ensure that they are not being harassed or shooed away.)
Another route, Batongbacal says, in asserting the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea is to immediately lodge diplomatic protests whenever Beijing fishes in Manila’s waters.
“Every time na mayroon tayong makikitang Chinese fishing vessels sa West Philippine Sea na nangingisda o kaya mukhang mangingisda, automatic dapat may protest ‘yan at may demand sa Tsina na ‘I-pull out mo ‘yang barkong ‘yan,’” he said.
(Every time that we see Chinese fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea fishing or appearing to fish, a diplomatic protest should be filed automatically with a demand for China to pull out those ships.)
Take them to court
Apart from diplomatic protests, Batongbacal says it is possible for the Philippines to sue Chinese vessels for violating local laws and regulations.
“Pwede mo silang patawan ng mga fine, pwede mo silang idemanda sa local courts mo for violation of fishery laws,” he said. “Dapat ginagawa natin ‘yon. ‘Yan ang senyales na talagang ina-assert natin ang ating karapatan.”
(You can make them pay a fine, you can sue them in local courts for violation of fishery laws … We should be doing that. That’s a sign that we’re really asserting our rights.)
Aside from suing ships in local courts, the Philippines can also opt to go global and get help from the international community by appealing that China be made to report on what it is doing to control its fishing vessels.
“Kasi nakikita natin sila na nagko-conduct ng illegal, unregulated at unreported fishing … at nakikita rin natin sila na nage-engage sa destructive fishing activity. Kailangan mag-report sila, anong ginagawa niyo para pigilan ang ganyang klaseng illegal activity?” Batongbacal said.
(Because we see them conducting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing … and we also see that they’re engaging in destructive fishing activity. They must report what they are doing to stop those kinds of activities?)
He added that the Philippines can ask the international community to declare China as a sponsor of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and for them to stop trading with China when it comes to fisheries.
“Iilan lang ‘yan sa mga pwede nating gawin na legal avenues. Marami pang iba … Basta ang kailangan mo lang isipin, ano ‘yong mga legal actions, legal courses na available sa’yo under all of these international treaties and conventions,” Batongbacal said.
(Those are just some of the legal avenues we can pursue. There’s a lot more … What you need to think of is what are the legal actions, legal courses available to you under all these international treaties and conventions.)