Time for Philippine diplomatic, legal offensive vs China

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

The stage was set this week for the Philippines on the South China Sea row. In Manila Sunday, July 12, the fourth anniversary of the arbitral win at The Hague, the Duterte administration issued its strongest words yet on it. Reaffirming the key points, Foreign Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the ruling contributes to peaceful dispute settlement and regional stability. In Washington the following day the US aligned its policy in the SCS with the international court award. Rebuking “China’s treatment of the SCS as a maritime empire,” State Sec. Mike Pompeo cited aggressions against Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Tuesday, the US further warned against Chinese construction of military bases in the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal. “Lasting, severe consequences” await China under the Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty, said Assistant State Sec. for East Asia and Pacific Affairs David Stillwell.

Given the backdrop President Rodrigo Duterte can now step up diplomatic and legal offensives against Beijing. The court award is his means and the US has his back for peaceful initiatives. What are those? Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario suggested eight moves Tuesday at the ADR Institute’s conference on regional security:

(1) Pull the award off the shelf and table it at the UN General Assembly’s 75th session in September. It’s opportune, since the session’s theme is commitment to multilateralism. One hundred ninety-three state leaders will present their positions before the global community. Manila “can win world opinion” against reef grabbing, poaching, and military aggression within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone by China that is 800 miles distant. The Hague ruling has multilateral benefits for the four other aggrieved ASEAN states, and support from the US, EU, and Japan.

(2) Consolidate support and assistance from the US, Australia, EU, Japan, ASEAN, and other nations. “Most countries believe in rule of law ... not in China’s method of bullying and deceit.” Those countries want the arbitral verdict enforced as a product of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

(3) Make China officials criminally accountable for the massive, near-permanent damage of the SCS marine wealth. Del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales have asked the International Criminal Court to indict Chinese President Xi Jinping, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and ex-ambassador to Manila Zhao Jinhua for crimes against humanity in destroying Filipinos’ food sources. Any citizen of ASEAN and East Asia can file suits with the ICC as well.

(4) Make China pay monetarily for fish theft, and ruin of breeding grounds and Filipino fishing boats. The University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute conservatively has estimated the ecosystem damage at P33.1 billion a year, or P231.7 billion since concreting seven Philippine reefs into island fortresses in 2013. Manila rightfully can seize China state assets in the Philippines. Other victimized ASEAN states can sue for recompense and seize Beijing assets.

Del Rosario forwarded certain steps to strengthen the Philippines:

(5) Rejoin EEZ defense patrols with the US. The Constitution requires protection of territory and maritime jurisdictions. Thus, the need to develop Philippine defense assets, and to call on allies like the US, Australia, and Japan to assist in enforcing the rule of law in the SCS.

(6) Government must assert Filipinos’ rightful position by relying on the skill, courage, and patriotism of the Navy and Armed Forces for defense against any aggressor. “To the deep dismay of our people, we are still succumbing to threats of force [or] war. It is a grave insult to our forefathers who died and fought for our country’s self-respect and independence if we only cower in fear before such threats. It is also a grave insult to our children and grandchildren if we give away our waters and territories in the face of such threats.”

(7) Engage the wisdom and expertise of retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio as government advisor. Carpio had helped craft the Philippine arbitral case. From researches of ancient maps and documents of China, the Philippines, Europe and Japan, he also debunked Beijing’s supposed historical claims over the SCS.

(8) Government must listen to its people: “Nine in ten Filipinos believe it is important to regain control of the artificial islands built by China. Nine in ten Filipinos believe it is important to strengthen military capability. Eight in ten Filipinos believe the SCS issues should be brought to the UN General Assembly.”

“President Duterte promised the Filipino people to raise the arbitral award at a ‘proper time’,” del Rosario recounted. “It is time.”

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Expos%C3%A9s-Investigative-Reporting-Clean-Government-ebook/dp/B00EPX01BG

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Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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