(Photo: Rene Lumawag/Presidential Photo/PCOO)
Bullies relying on force to achieve their goals become helpless before a bigger bully. In their drug war, state forces outnumber and outgun drug users from poor, informal settler communities, even when they allegedly offer resistance. But confronting a bigger, better-armed Chinese navy?
No one expects or wants President Duterte to declare war against the People’s Republic of China. But, as Justice Antonio Carpio has warned, he should avoid any act or statement that even implicitly waives Philippine rights to territory in the West Philippine Sea. The government can also file a protest against Chinese activities that compromise these rights.
Du30 does not need to decide to go to war against China. But he should be considering his options should the PRC “declare war” against the Philippines. Not by a formal declaration of hostilities, but by a silent, creeping invasion of Philippine waters.
Unfortunately, the public pronouncements of the Duterte Government have arguably encouraged the PRC strategy: soft words, big stick, continuing encroachment. Having demonstrated little regard for enforcing the rule of law at home, it is not surprising that Du30 has attached little value to international law and international public opinion in mobilizing moral and diplomatic support for Davids fighting Goliaths.
Last July, the Hague International Court of Arbitration unanimously rejected China’s claims of historic rights over a wide swath of the South China Seas bounded by its unilaterally-imposed nine-dash-line. The Court also ruled that:
- The Spratly reclamation projects undertaken by China were illegal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea;
- These projects had caused severe environmental damage to the coral reef environment, in violation of its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems;
- Chinese fishermen were exploiting endangered species on a substantial scale;
- Chinese ships were violating the law in physically obstructing Philippine vessels sailing in the area.
Rather than celebrate the Court’s landmark decision, the government appeared embarrassed by it. The Duterte Administration did not demonstrate any initiative to consider how the country could build on this legal victory to strengthen its position with China in future negotiations.
It might have used the high moral and legal ground given by the Hague ruling to accelerate ASEAN agreement on a common code of conduct based on international law to govern the resolution of maritime disputes. It might have explored with UNCLOS signatories how best to reinforce respect for international covenants.
While carefully avoiding causing China to lose face, it has been unconcerned about disrespecting traditional allies, with whom it shares mutual security interests. The Du30 Administration has apparently decided that pivoting to China and appeasement is preferable to exploring defensive preparations with allies. And now, China is moving on Panatag Shoal and even beyond the West Philippine Seas to survey Benham Rise, acknowledged as part of the Philippine continental shelf on our eastern borders.
Du30 hopes that playing nice will bring in billions of Chinese investments. But investors will not be giving grants; they will be expecting returns on their funds. And, in any case, would the Constitution sanction a quid pro quo, allowing the government to barter Philippine territorial patrimony for Chinese money?#####