Non-intercourse is a tool

OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide - The Freeman

Attending to my small garden in the mountains every Saturday gives me an awesome feeling. To witness the more than a thousand trees (mabolo, tugas, narra, avocado, caimito, chico, guyabano, lomboy, macopa and tambis) that I planted grow from seedlings to fruit-bearing trees gives me the satisfaction of contributing, in the humblest of ways, to the environment. It was thus exhilarating when I jumped yesterday into my old and rickety 1970 Volkswagen Beetle to go to the farm. Thanks to my driver Wilmar, I had time to scan the internet while on the way to Barangay Paril.

Buried in the miscellany of information carried by various social media platforms was this jaw-dropping report: “(t)he Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) recently shooed away a Chinese navy warship from the West Philippine Sea, authorities confirmed Monday, July 19, as China increases its presence in waters belonging to the Philippines. A PCG ship, BRP Cabra (MRV-4409), challenged Chinese Navy Warship 189 in Marie Louise Bank located in the West Philippine Sea on July 13, according to PCG spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo. The bank is found 147 nautical miles away from El Nido, Palawan.”

I had no opportunity to validate the account. It could very well be fake news because it seemed too good to be true. A Philippine vessel driving away a Chinese military asset from Philippine waters? Or was it an episode of a favorite television program called “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”?

In the absence of any denial by the China-friendly administration of President Rodrigo Duterte or from Communist China itself, I had to assume it was true. Indeed, if that were true, the coast guard crew that accomplished the job did more than just a heroic act. More importantly, they proved that their commander-in-chief has a flawed perception of international law.

President Duterte said many times before that we cannot drive China away from the West Philippine Sea without going to war. Accordingly, his way is the peaceful route. The only way, according to him, is for the Philippines to be friendly and ask China to leave our islands. Or words to that effect. He doesn’t even want to mention about the decision of the International Arbitral Tribunal because he considers it a piece of useless paper!

Here is where firstly the president is wrong. If China really believed that its claim over the WPS is legally founded, Chinese Navy warship 189 would not have moved an inch away. It would have stayed put because to the Chinese, the act of BRP Cabra would have been a violation of their territorial rights and could have triggered war.

Secondly, in the modern world, no nation can stay isolated. The iron curtain that Russia supposedly fenced itself with is gone. There’s no more China boast of a bamboo curtain. These two powerful nations aren’t isolated anymore. Almost all other countries throughout the world are their trading partners. Some are heavily indebted to them.

Our sovereignty over islands in the West Philippine Sea is settled. This document is now part of international law. No less than the International Arbitral Tribunal ruled invalid China’s claims over these territories. We might not have obtained any document to enforce our territorial rights because there is yet no such process but had the Philippines brought this matter to the attention of other states, the rest of world would have seen the legality of the decision of the arbitral court and could have pressured China to respect our rights. War isn’t necessary. We don’t have to shed blood yet. But with the rest of the free world recognizing our rights, they could use such measures short of war as non-intercourse to uphold our rights.

So, by all means, let us take a cue from the crew of BRP Cabra. Our Department of Foreign Affairs should start making noise in the UN general assembly for other states to help us. We don’t need to go to war.

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