Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute
As we commemorate the second anniversary of our nation’s victory in the Arbitral Tribunal, we reflect on how the Philippine government has used this landmark ruling to generate support from the international community and to uphold our claims over the West Philippine Sea.
The Stratbase ADR Institute gathered local and international experts from reputable think tanks, universities, representatives from the government and private sectors and other stakeholders to share their views and insights on the consequences of the policy of appeasement of the administration and the threats to the international rules-based order.
One of the guest speakers, Dr. Go Ito from the Meiji University, warned that China’s assertive attitude has been jeopardizing the safety and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. He emphasized that nothing has changed in the behavior of China despite the historic ruling.
Given this context, he suggested that we have to work with like-minded partners including the United States and Japan to generate support for the arbitral decision.
Natalie Sambhi, Ph.D. candidate from Australia National University, for her part, explained that the Philippines does not want to push back too hard on China because it is one of its biggest trading partners. Even so, she recommended that it is still imperative to resolve territorial disputes through peaceful means and urge other states to refrain from coercive behavior.
For the past two years, the Duterte administration has maintained that China has not breached its “good faith commitment” in the South China Sea despite reports of continued militarization in many of the islands in the area.
Contrary to the administration’s thrusts, the latest national surveys show that majority of the Filipinos want the government to be more assertive in enforcing the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
The latest Pulse Asia survey revealed that 73% of Filipinos think that the Philippine government should assert our rights and protect our territorial sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea. According to the same survey, 36% of the Filipinos want our government to file a protest against China in connection to militarization reports and the ruling. On the other hand, 22% want to strengthen our military alliance with other countries, like the US, Japan, and Australia.
A similar nationwide study by the Social Weather Stations revealed an even higher figure of 81% or “four out of five adult Filipinos repudiate the government’s policy of doing nothing about China’s intrusion in the West Philippine Sea.”
Clearly, majority of Filipinos want the Philippine government to defend what is ours. Our people deserve a government that is willing to fight for their citizens’ future and not a government that is helpless and weak.
While the government continues to put so much trust on China as an economic partner especially in the areas of infrastructure development and tourism, only 17% of the Filipinos trust China. This is also despite the almost two million Filipino Chinese in the Philippines.
ALL IS NOT LOST
The Philippine victory in the Arbitral Tribunal is concrete proof that small nations like ours can make our voices heard in a rules-based regime.
While the Philippines is not as powerful as China, all is not lost. If we really want to safeguard our interests and protect our rights, we should work with others, bilaterally and multilaterally, to ensure the freedom of navigation that underpins the safety of all our oceangoing trade. All diplomatic avenues need to be exhausted.
The Philippines can engage the members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the Quad, a loose informal security association of naval powers that can potentially contain China’s expansionist behavior.
Sambhi added that the Philippines doesn’t have to be alone in confronting issues like those facing the fishermen. Australia, for one, can be a partner in upholding the rules-based global order.
Japan, on the other hand, according to Dr. Makoto Seta from Waseda University, has consistently advocated the importance of the rule of law and the use of peaceful means, in settling maritime disputes.
Now more than ever, we have to rally the international community to help enforce the tribunal ruling. More than our legal responsibility, it has become our moral obligation to the Filipino people to protect the victory that we have won and to promote international law in a rules-based regime.
The government needs to reassess which options can better serve the interests of our fellow Filipinos. They can start by listening to the voices of the Filipinos.
Image Source: AFP