“Securing the 2016 Arbitral Award had been an arduous fight for our people, and it is the solemn constitutional mandate of our leaders to uphold and enforce the Award”
It has been six years since our country won a resounding victory in The Hague, thereby securing our rights in the West Philippine Sea under international law.
The 2016 Arbitral Award is an emblem of pride for the Filipino as it recognizes our national patrimony in our waters and affirms that the vast resources therein belong to the Filipino people.
Securing the 2016 Arbitral Award had been an arduous fight for our people, and it is the solemn constitutional mandate of our leaders to uphold and enforce the Award.
The six years that passed, however, have been less than ideal for our country because the Duterte administration tragically pursued a policy of appeasing China, in exchange for economic benefits that never materialized.
With a new administration, we are again met with renewed hope.
This is especially true, given that, on May 26, 2022, then President-elect Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. declared that “Our sovereignty is sacred and we will not compromise it in any way” and “We will not allow a single square millimeter of our maritime coastal…rights to be trampled upon.”
President Marcos Jr. further stated that “We have a very important ruling in our favor. We will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It’s not a claim, it is already our territorial right and that is what the arbitral ruling can do to help us.”
We would like to respectfully state that we fully support this position and we believe that this is the best position that serves the interests of the Filipino people.
In this regard, we were also heartened to hear the appointment of Enrique Manalo as Foreign Affairs Secretary. Secretary Manalo is a career diplomat with decades of proven experience in the complexities of foreign affairs.
If the position taken by President Marcos Jr. is fully pursued, then we respectfully proffer our modest means to help the new administration achieve its declared objective in enforcing the rights of the Filipino people in the West Philippine Sea.
As such, may we restate a few of our suggestions in achieving this objective:
First is to consistently raise the Award before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and sponsor a UN Resolution showing the support of other countries in enforcing the Award.
We believe that the Award has the support of the international community which believes in the Rule of Law.
The Award benefits the coastal States of the South China Sea (i.e., Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei), whose lands and seas are encroached upon by China’s nine-dash line.
The Award also benefits the rest of the other countries in the world like the United States, the European Union and Japan because it upholds international law and affirms the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.
Second is to strengthen our means to defend our waters and enforce the Award, by developing a minimum credible defense posture.
In this regard, we welcome our country’s acquisition of BrahMos missiles, which are meant to protect Filipino rights in our waters. We respectfully submit that the administration of President Marcos, Jr. should continue to support this defense project.
We should conduct more joint patrols in the South China Sea with our security partners, to enforce our maritime zones and especially to protect our soldiers who are selflessly guarding areas in our West Philippine Sea, such as those in Pag-Asa and Ayungin Shoal.
We should strengthen our security alliances, especially the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty or “MDT,” which the US declared as applicable in the South China Sea as part of the Pacific and, therefore, includes the West Philippine Sea.
Third, given unprecedented inflation and that a major source of our country’s energy, i.e., the Malampaya gas field, will run out of gas in the next few years, it is imperative for our country to find new energy sources, while remaining steadfast in upholding our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, as embodied in the Award.
Our resources in the West Philippine Sea are immeasurable and will support us for generations.
We would like to see President Marcos, Jr. appoint an upright and patriotic person to head our Department of Energy, who has the talent and skill to find ways to secure new energy sources needed by our country, while steadfastly upholding our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.
Fourth, and finally, we should start working on making China compensate our countrymen for destroying the breeding grounds of fish and other marine life in the Spratlys.
More than half of our country’s 110 million Filipinos live in coastal communities, relying on marine resources for their daily needs.
The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute conservatively estimated that our country is losing at least P33.1 billion annually from our damaged reef ecosystems due to China’s reclamation activities and illegal fishing operations.
This sums up to P297.9 billion since the start of 2014 (around the time China started dredging) until the end of this year.
This money may be used to save our fish, rehabilitate the marine ecosystem destroyed by China in our waters and help our economy.
Our suggestions are no easy task and would take considerable will, patriotism and courage to accomplish them.
At this juncture, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is given a rare opportunity by the nation to do what is right, protect our patrimony and help the Filipino people.
(ADR is former Philippine Ambassador to the United States and Former Secretary of Foreign Affairs)