News Commentary

Safeguarding rule of law through a strategy of assertive transparency

Katrina Guerrero - Philstar.com
Safeguarding rule of law through a strategy of assertive transparency
The Chinese Coast Guard has installed a floating barrier in the southern portion of Bajo de Masinloc, a traditional fishing ground off the coast of Zambales.
Philippine Coast Guard

As a rising middle power in the Indo-Pacific, the Philippines is faced with asymmetric security challenges particularly in the maritime domain. At the core of these challenges that persist in the West Philippine Sea are gray zone operations, disinformation tactics, and information warfare.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a historic ruling in favor of the Philippines. This ruling, backed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and international law, is legally binding on all parties. This has likewise been widely recognized and supported by like-minded partners throughout the years.

Despite the Philippines’ notable victory, its national sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic rights are continuously challenged by China’s blatant disregard of its obligations under international law. China, immersed in its imperialist fantasy, relentlessly pursues its illegal activities such as building artificial islands and harassing Filipino vessels at sea without thought of grave consequences to the environment and safety of people onboard. These activities, which threaten to undermine the peace, security, and stability of the rules-based international order, demand urgent attention.

Given this backdrop, the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has implemented a strategic shift of the country’s foreign and security strategies to assert our rights more firmly. A strategy of assertive transparency, aligned with the goal of countering massive disinformation campaigns, is robustly undertaken to increase public awareness of and support for issues we face in the West Philippine Sea.

At the frontlines of transparency efforts is the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). During the forum titled “Unveiling Asymmetric Challenges through Assertive Transparency” organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute in partnership with the Embassy of Australia in the Philippines, CG Commodore Jay Tarriela stated that the PCG has “shifted from silently enduring bullying tactics to adopting a more assertive approach in narrating and exposing illegal actions of China.” 

The renewed approach involves documenting the PCG’s encounters with aggressive actors in our maritime waters through the public release of images and videos exposing China’s bullying behavior. Other methods to publicly disclose Chinese aggression include the hosting of joint press conferences with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the National Security Council.

These pave the way for responsible truth-telling by providing Filipinos and the international community with factual narratives supported by evidence. These efforts, according to Commodore Tarriela, are strategic since these are “designed to achieve a grand objective in pursuit of our national security and interest.”

China’s narrative that the Philippines is escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific region by encroaching in “Chinese territory” and intentionally provoking Chinese Coast Guard vessels are false and without basis. China’s portrayal of itself as a victim and its portrayal of the Philippines as the instigator of conflict represent a desperate and hopeless attempt to turn the tides in their favor. 

Dr. Alvin Camba, Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, also stated that in the digital space, social media influencers contribute to advancing Chinese narratives through credentialing pseudo experts, discrediting well-respected individuals, and misconstruing accounts of incidents at sea. Hence, Dr. Camba stressed the importance of guarding against the noise created by fake news-peddling social media influencers through educated readership. 

However hard the purveyors try, these types of disinformation tactics can never change the 2016 ruling, much less  overturn well-established international laws. 

For the Philippines, exposing Chinese gray zone operations and disinformation tactics goes beyond publicizing incidents. The country’s strategy of assertive transparency is deeply embedded in its policies and is supported by activities that encompass the whole of society. 

With the government at the helm, the efforts of the Philippines towards safeguarding its rights have inspired renewed courage and confidence across various stakeholders such as the military, diplomatic community, academe, and civil society organizations to speak the truth louder against frenzied disinformation campaigns. The importance of articulating and implementing clear policies for the long-term effectiveness of institutionalized transparency, according to Col. Raymond Powell, Founder and Director of Project Sealight, cannot be stressed enough.

The will of Filipinos to fight for what is legally and rightfully ours is stronger than ever. The Philippines continues to stand its ground in defending the West Philippine Sea amid rampant bullying and information warfare. Stratbase ADR Institute President Professor Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit highlighted that by engaging in assertive transparency, “the Philippines affirms its rightful place within its own territory, and continuously positions itself on the right side of history.”

The bravery and conviction of the Philippines to stand firmly in its fight for the West Philippine Sea equally invoked support from like-minded partners such as Australia. As one of our strategic partners, enhancing collaboration on assertive transparency efforts to counter asymmetric security challenges is crucial. 

The Philippines’ endeavors toward securing its maritime space and its people against the intimidation of bullies is executed by the whole-of-Philippine society and supported by responsible members of the international community. A collective effort to shed light on truth, to raise awareness, and to sustain efforts is imperative in defending the country, reinforcing regional stability, and upholding the rules-based international order.


Katrina Guerrero is a program and research manager at the think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.

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