THE Philippines will continue to pursue a principled and law-based approach to assert its rights over some areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said.
“We are at the threshold of history, taking a principled, consistent position on the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea issue, depending on what is legitimately and rightfully ours. The ultimate purpose of this case is our national interest. This is what we, as a nation, conveyed …before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague,” Del Rosario said in a recent roundtable discussion on “Foreign Policy in an Evolving World Order” in Makati City.
He was referring to the memorial filed by the Philippines contesting China’s claim over almost the entire West Philippine Sea. Last month, Philippine officials made their presentations and submitted documents to back the government’s stand that the international tribunal has jurisdiction over the case.
There are a number of countries with overlapping claims at the WPS but only the Philippines took China to court.
Del Rosario said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will assert the rightful place of the Philippines in the community of nations, similar to what former UN General Assembly Carlos P. Romulo did when he asserted the right of the country to be included in the United Nations seal in 1949.
The roundtable discussion organized by Stratbase ADR Institute was led by foreign policy experts like Prof. Rene de Castro, Prof. Alma Salvador, Dr. Raul Pangalangan, who was recently named judge of the International Criminal Court and publisher Jose “Babes” Romualdez.
“Our maritime dispute with China, a friend and a valued partner in the region, is but one of the many complex challenges confronting 21st century international diplomacy. The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, is in a state of flux as governments are faced with multiple security issues, punctuated further by the rise of non-state factors,” Del Rosario said.
“The Philippine foreign policy will continue to evolve in relation to our history, identity and aspirations as a people. It will be defined by our national leadership, the institutional arrangement, and the ever-changing international environment,” he added.
Pangalanan said the Philippines did right in filing a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China.
“In a David vs. Goliath scenario, the Philippines would have been helpless; by filing the case, we have shifted it from a two-party settlement and submitted it to a third-party decision-maker in the tribunal. That decision will not be based on military power, but it will be based on rules in international law,” he said.
“The Philippines used to be all alone on this issue, and especially by bringing in the environmental lobby into the picture, we tapped into new networks and alliances that can bring not just their own voice but also the moral suasion of their positions on the dispute. For me this is nearest to environmental issues. For me, the case has changed the ball-game. It has opened opportunities not just for new partnerships with neighboring countries within the Asia-Pacific, but it also changes the debate on the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
Prof. Victor Andres C. Manhit, President of the ADR Institute, however stressed the need to re-examine the country’s foreign policy to determine whether it remains responsive to changing times.
He said presidential aspirants should also disclose their stand on the issue.
“The territorial challenge in the West Philippine Sea is a critical National Security and economic issue that the next government will inherit. We must ask the candidates aspiring to be the next leaders of the country to clearly state the foreign policy they will apply to resolve this dispute. The next leadership must have a strong a decisive policy that best serves our national interest and the growing number of allies,” Manhit said.
Prof. Renato De Castro, former Chairman of the International Studies Department of De La Salle University and a trustee of ADR Institute, said the sea dispute has become a “dangerous ground” or a “future conflict.”
He said the close relations between the Philippines and the United States may boost the country’s case.
“It gives a strong signal to Beijing that it has to take into account American military presence in the country if China uses force and strengthens Philippine resolve to uphold its claim in the face of Chinese pressure in the South China Sea,” he noted.
Prof. Alma Salvador of the Ateneo De Manila University said Asean has also taken cognisance of the enormity of the sea disputes that it has, in recent years, issued statements expressing concern over Chinese militarism in the West Philippine Sea.
“What we’re seeing here is that the initiatives and efforts of Asean toward building a community toward the end of 2015 is now being challenged by ASEAN’s response to the South China Sea dispute, its response to China’s militarism, and at the same time, China’s response to the Code of Conduct and its South China Sea policy as a whole. These two forces serve as a framework for testing the capacity of Asean to build a community,” she said.