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Opinion

Filipinos are fully behind the PCA arbitral ruling

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

Last Tuesday, I was asked to deliver the keynote address at an international forum titled, “Redefining Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in an Age of Uncertainty,” organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute to commemorate the anniversary of the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration Tribunal Ruling.

Conducted via hybrid format, the forum gathered local and regional security experts who discussed the complex issues surrounding the Indo-Pacific and how the Philippines can harness its maritime potential and position itself as a key player in the maritime domain.

The powerhouse roster of panelists included director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Lisa Curtis; BowerGroupAsia director of research and Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) senior associate Murray Hiebert; Ambassador Jana Sediva of the Czech Republic; the British Embassy in the Philippines’ deputy head of mission Alistair White; National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies associate professor Yusuke Takagi; Australia National University professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies John Blaxland; De La Salle University professor and Stratbase ADRI program convenor Dr. Renato de Castro; and retired Philippine Navy Rear Admiral Rommel Jude Ong, currently the executive director of the Security Reform Initiative and Professor of Praxis at the Ateneo School of Government.

The three-and-a-half-hour conference examined the evolving security architecture in the Indo-Pacific and the need for the Philippines to engage in strategic alliances with like-minded states to promote peace and stability in the region through a rules-based international order.

No one will argue that the 2016 PCA arbitral ruling continues to be the single most important document during these volatile times. And as I have always said, it was not only a victory for the Philippines but for the international community as well for the primary reason that the decision is underpinned by the rule of law.

As noted by ADRI president Professor Dindo Manhit, the 2016 arbitral ruling has “defined what is ours as it legitimized and validated our claims in the disputed waters. Under a rules-based international system, the Permanent Court of Arbitration has legally transformed our maritime claims into territorial rights.”

No less than President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself has recognized this, saying, “We have a very important ruling in our favor. We will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It’s not a claim, it is already our territorial right,” asserting that “we will not allow a single square millimeter” of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon.

It was interesting to learn that in a recent Pulse Asia survey commissioned by Stratbase, 89 percent of Filipinos believe that the President should assert our rights in the West Philippine Sea, and 90 percent agree that the new administration under President Marcos must invest in the capability of the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard to protect the country’s territory and marine resources within its exclusive economic zone. Moreover, 84 percent also agree that the new government should form alliances with other countries to defend Philippine territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.

In his presentation, retired Navy Rear Admiral Rommel Jude Ong asserted that “our defense posture needs a serious reset” to mitigate China’s maritime posture and restore a rules-based order within our exclusive economic zone. A reset would also enable us to “contribute to regional stability under the framework of a free and open Indo-Pacific as well as the ASEAN Outlook in the Indo-Pacific” (AOIP).”

As I explained in my keynote remarks, we need to continue with AFP modernization efforts to build a more reliable and credible Philippine armed forces in order to strengthen our territorial or external defense capabilities. One positive development that has happened is the acquisition of the abandoned Hanjin shipyard in Subic by US-based equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The shipyard, now known as Agila Subic, will help strengthen and transform the Philippine Navy – which is an anchor tenant occupying 250 acres of the facility – into a multi-capable naval force with the activation of the Naval Operations Base that will play a major role in our military modernization efforts.

I agree with the assessment of RADM Ong that for modernization to be sustainable, we must bring the local defense industry into the picture, as “some of the items we are procuring can actually be done by a local company,” he said. At the same time, there is a need to review the legal structure as current laws tend to be biased against local industries instead of supporting them, he added.

I for one know that we have a pioneering Filipino company that produces world-class firearms, ammunition and other defense products – Armscor – which has always been supportive of the Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) program that both former defense secretary Del Lorenzana and Department of National Defense OIC General Jose Faustino Jr. have been wanting to revive for the Philippines to attain defense self-sufficiency.

And while I believe that diplomacy is still the best way to find a peaceful resolution to the contentious issues surrounding the Indo-Pacific, it is equally important for us to be able to defend ourselves if a situation such as an intrusion in our exclusive economic zone occurs.

Filipinos are known for having a deep threshold for patience and are prepared to sacrifice for the sake of peace. In Tagalog, “mahaba ang pasensiya ng Filipino.” But make no mistake about it – when push comes to shove, we Filipinos will stand up and fight for what is rightfully ours.

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Email: [email protected]

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