THE government’s soft approach to China’s militarization of the South China Sea will erode the advantage the Philippines gained when the UN arbitral tribunal recognized Manila’s claim over disputed territories in the area, a maritime law expert said Sunday.
“This ‘soft position’ is not working. The only thing happening is we keep giving and giving,” said Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
In an interview with radio dzMM, Batongbacal said China’s continued militarization would enable it to take control of the disputed area.
He said the recent deployment by China of surface-to-sea and surface-to-air missiles on three islands claimed in the Spratlys claimed by the Philippines showed that its goal was to take control of the South China Sea.
Batongbacal also hit President Rodrigo Duterte for blaming his predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III for doing nothing to enforce the UN decision, noting that the tribunal’s ruling in the Philippines’ favor came after Aquino left office, or during the Duterte administration.
Duterte’s stand on China was a “total reversal” of the Philippines’ earlier position to assert its claim to its territory.
He also said Duterte should stop insisting that the dispute with China would lead to war, which the Philippines would lose.
“The President is very vocal when it comes to the issue of sovereignty… but when it comes to China, he’s very soft,” Batongbacal said in Filipino.
Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano slammed critics who said the government has not acted on the militarization in the South China Sea, saying that diplomatic efforts were aimed at resolving the dispute.
“Those who say we are doing nothing do not know what they’re talking about,” Cayetano said in Filipino late Saturday. “There are diplomatic actions being taken, and just because we don’t shout about it doesn’t mean we’re doing nothing.”
Cayetano acknowledged that the deployment of missiles by China was of “grave concern,” given the Philippines’ territorial claims in the area, but said there were other claimants as well.
“It’s not just between the Philippines and China. It’s between China and the neighbors in the region. It’s between the claimants and non-claimants. It’s between the claimants and the non-regional players.”
But opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV denounced Duterte for continuously allowing himself to be “a lapdog of China.”
“We, as a nation, should be alarmed by China’s militarization of the West Philippine Sea [WPS],” said Trillanes.
“Militarily, in the short term, we should fast track the implementation of the Edca , and encourage freedom of navigation patrols by the US and other allies,” he said.
In the medium term, the senator said, the Philippines should strengthen our security alliances with the US, Japan, Australia and the Asean; and continue the modernization of its Armed Forces.
“Diplomatically, we should reassert our victory in the Arbitral tribunal. We should also initiate a regional security summit to raise international awareness on the WPS situation,” he said.
Also on Sunday, Muntinlupa City Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon raised concern over the Chinese missiles.
“Well, we already know the history. There was limited movement for our fishermen [there]. So while its [China] military presence [in the area] gets stronger, our concern on restrictions is escalating.
This is true not only of the Philippines, but other countries, too,” Biazon tod radio dzBB.
The government must take diplomatic actions to manifest its displeasure over the “creeping militarization and creeping invasion” in the area, he said.
“That is very alarming since it is our territory, some of the islets are within an exclusive economic zone, That is why we should have a corresponding action. We should not just ignore it,” he said.