A think tank organization urges the Philippine government to adopt a stronger stance on the South China Sea territorial debate by asserting the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration Ruling that dismissed Beijing’s so-called nine-dash line” as baseless.
“We must not allow China’s blatant disregard of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). The Filipino people deserve a government that prioritizes the security and welfare of its citizens before others,” said Professor Victor Andres Manhit, president of the think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.
“We must unceasingly uphold the legacy of the 2016 arbitral ruling and our leaders should step up in unified action to defend the West Philippine Sea,” Manhit stressed.
Meanwhile, Stratbase is organizing a forum dubbed “Redefining Maritime Cooperation in the Indo Pacific in an Age of Uncertainty” to mark the sixth anniversary of the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a United Nations body based in The Hague, the Netherlands.
To be held starting 9 a.m. on Tuesday, July 12, and live streamed online, the event will be attended by foreign policy, international law, and maritime security experts. The discussions aim to explore avenues for the Philippines to develop capabilities to secure its maritime jurisdiction and achieve stability in the Indo-Pacific region Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez will deliver the keynote address at the forum.
The list of speakers includes international geopolitical experts Lisa Curtis, director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program and senior fellow for the Center for a New American Security (Revitalizing the Alliance through Strategic Autonomy and Rules-Based System); Murray Hiebert, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Aligning Indo-Pacific Strategies for the China
Challenge); Dr. Renato de Castro, Stratbase ADRI trustee and program convenor (A Roadmap of Philippine Foreign Policy: Prospects for further Indo-Pacific Presence); and RADM. Rommel Jude Ong, executive director, Security Reform Initiative (Contextualizing the Philippines’ Defense Posture today in the Indo-Pacific Region).
H.E. Jana Sediva, Ambassador of the Czech Republic (Developing the EU Defense Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific for Maritime Capacity Building), and Alistair White, Deputy Head of Mission of the British Embassy in the Philippines (Building on the UK Security Strategy in the Indo-Pacific towards Maritime Cooperation) are panelist from the diplomatic community.
From the academe are: Yusuke Takagi, Associate Professor of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (Japanese Maritime Diplomacy: Maintaining the Freedom of the Indo-Pacific Waters), John Blaxland, Professor of International Security & Intelligence Studies Australia National University (Elevating Australia’s Maritime Security Relations in line with Current and Emerging Threats).
The presence of speakers from different regions shows the need for the support of allies and like- minded countries in pursuing a just order in the Indo-Pacific, Stratbase noted.
It is not only the national government that could uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity, Manhit said. “We should foster multi-lateral, inclusive cooperation through alliances and strategic partnerships.”
“Already, there is a strong aggrupation of support from like-minded states to counter threats from China or other traditional and non-traditional security challenges that the Philippines should align with,” Manhit added.
In a special study, A Responsive and Strategic Foreign Policy Outlook in an Interconnected and Multipolar World, launched earlier this year, Manhit said the current Philippine leader must craft a responsive and strategic foreign policy to reverse the losses caused by the flippant policy of the Duterte administration.
“We need a more responsive and strategic foreign policy that would implement a clear, cohesive, and consistent foreign policy direction and develop the country’s comprehensive power according to its military, economic, scientific, and cultural capabilities,” he said.
Our territorial right in the West Philippine Sea is no longer just a claim, he added.
“After July 2016, or when the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in our favor, that claim became a right given to us under a rules-based international system. Our arbitral win defines from a point of view of international law, what is ours and what does not exist which is the nine-dash line. So, I just hope we learn from all this, and part of that also is let’s not get drawn into that argument that we are stuck between a choice of China and the United States.” Manhit clarified.
Manhit said this is the perfect opportunity for President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to establish that he is much different from his immediate predecessor in the critical areas of foreign policy and maritime security.
“He did, after all, promise that he would rely on the rule of law to assert our position and jurisdiction,” Manhit said.
It may be recalled that the 2016 decision, came at the start of the term of former President Rodrigo Duterte, who refrained from asserting the country’s legal victory and reduced it to the argument that the Philippines would never win a war against a giant neighbor.
Marcos however, who has yet to name his secretary of Foreign Affairs, said having better relations would be more judicious as the countries involved are the Philippines’ closest neighbors.
He emphasized the importance of forging partnerships with neighboring countries and not allowing the territorial dispute to fester and escalate into a severe problem as the West Philippine Sea is a critical part of trade routes for shipping in the region. He pointed out that China, on its closest part, is only 600 kilometers away from his province, Ilocos Norte.
“The partnerships that we make within the region, with ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], are going to be of critical importance. And that’s why we have to forge partnerships,” Marcos has said.
“It will be the partnerships that will keep things stable.”
Marcos, however, assured his administration will not cede a single square millimeter of the country’s maritime and coastal territories.
“Considering in the West Philippine Sea that there have been these conflicts, we will not allow a single square millimeter of our maritime, coastal up to 200 meters rights to be trampled upon,” he said.
“How do we do that? We talk to China consistently in a firm voice …We continue to discuss with them the conflicting claims that we have with China and that China has with other ASEAN members.”
“We need to continue having bilateral contact and communication with China. This is what I mentioned when I talked to President Xi (Jinping) when he called me to congratulate me on winning the elections. I said we have to continue to talk about this. This cannot be allowed to fester and to become more severe in terms of a problem between our two countries,” he added.
Marcos said the arbitral ruling issued by a United Nations tribunal in The Hague which favored the Philippines can be used to assert the country’s territorial rights in the WPS.
During the campaign, Marcos laid down the foundation for his so-called “pro-Philippines” independent foreign policy that would always place the national interest of Filipinos and country at its core.
“Well, it’s very simple in my mind. I don’t work for Washington D.C. and I don’t work for Beijing. I work for the Philippines,” he said.
“You cannot afford mistakes or misjudgments or lack of understanding when it comes to the Department of Foreign Affairs when it comes to foreign policy. We have to get it absolutely right,” he added.
Registration to the institute’s event is free via this link: