posted July 16, 2017 at 12:01 am
ONE year ago, the Philippines scored a victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The arbitration court ruled in our favor with regard to historic rights and entitlements in the South China Sea and the lawfulness of certain actions by China, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China, of course, said it would not have anything to do with the case because the court had no jurisdiction over it. The court later ruled that a party’s refusal to participate would not be a hindrance to the proceedings. And so the case was tried.
According to the PCA, China did not have legal basis to claim resources to the disputed territory it says is covered by its nine-dash line.
The implications of the decision, at that time, were lost to the novelty of the Duterte administration. A few months hence, we started getting a sense of the new President’s bent. As he blasted traditional allies like the United States and the United Nations, he became friendlier toward China. He never brought up the enforcement of the arbitral ruling in any of their meetings. There was, instead, mention of joint explorations in the disputed territory.
Perhaps Mr. Duterte is being realistic; he knows that militarily, we are no match to our giant neighbor. Thus we cannot afford to challenge it openly.
Still, we look to our President for leadership when it comes to protecting what is rightfully ours. Territory is essential to sovereignty—how can we be credible as this year’s leader of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for instance, when we appear to cower before China? How can we get anybody to take our President’s tough talk seriously?
It’s not threatening an ally or looking for war. We will remain friendly and congenial and fair to all. But we have to manifest, by words and actions, that we know our rights and we will not stand down when these rights are trampled over even—especially—by those who claim to be our friends.
Respect is not demanded, we agree. It is earned. We hope that amid all the other problems the nation is facing, Mr. Duterte will find it in his heart to let the Philippines earn the respect of the international community by acknowledging last year’s victory and ensuring there is no turning back from here.
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