"It is very possible that with these additional peaceful initiatives we will be able to lower the tensions."
There are two petitions going around the web calling for the Duterte administration to do more about our ongoing spat with China over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) or the South China Sea (SCS as it is usually referred to in international fora). One, the 1Sambayan/Carpio drive demanding that President Duterte retract his latest statements on the issue; the other, calling for the immediate withdrawal of China from the WPS.
Apparently, these signature campaigns were launched immediately after the fizzling out of the non-debate between the Chief Executive and retired Supreme Court Justice Carpio as most had expected.
Like past initiatives, egging the administration to “do more” about the WPS/SCS issue, I have no doubt these petitions too will simply be laid on the table, ready to be picked up every so often interchangeably with calls for “more and better” response measures against the COVID-19 pandemic as preparations for the May 2022 elections get into full gear.
The 1Sambayan/Carpio campaign entitled “President Duterte should RETRACT his damaging statements on the WPS” demanded that he withdraw “a) his statement that the July 12, 2016 Arbitral Award is just a scrap of paper that deserves to be thrown to the wastebasket; b) Chinese fishermen can fish in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the WPS and c) China is in possession of the WPS” as these amount to waiving our sovereign rights under the arbitral award thus contrary to the Constitution.
Carpio and his group are being naive. No. Sorry. They are too disingenuous to a fault. They have not only overstretched their reading of the 2016 arbitral award. They have simply ignored the administration reiterations early on, the latest being Duterte’s statement in a UN address sometime back, that the arbitral ruling is firmly in place and forms part of that body’s legal documentation on the dispute and competing claims among members on the WPS/SCS issue. They should have taken that “scrap of paper” statement in that vein – as a hyperbolic remark done out of exasperation. But did not since that would have ended their continuing charge that the regime is not “Doing More” to get China to do our (their) bidding.
As for the call for the immediate withdrawal of China from the West Philippine Sea” I can only refer those promoting this initiative to the latest DFA advice that another protest has been filed against Chinese activities in that part of the ocean. I am told this was the latest in a series of protests filed against such Chinese operations in the area and even in the Scarborough shoal and other areas where we have staked our claims since the administration took over. Additionally, the Chinese Ambassador has been invited to the Palace and our own envoy in Beijing, Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana, has been in constant talks with Chinese officials about our concerns over such activities which have caused tensions between the two countries.
Quite apart from these initiatives on the administration’s part, I wonder what other “doing more” measures the proponents might want done. If truth be told, are there any more measures in our diplomatic arsenal which we can realistically employ at this point to get China to do our bidding?
Issuance of diplomatic protests? We have issued scores and even upped the same by inviting the Chinese Ambassador to the Palace for discussions. We continue to do so probably until the term of this administration ends.
We can deploy patrols in and around our part of the ocean as in the Kalayaan Island Group and venture even far out as near as possible to the features now being occupied by China and other claimants.
If we can fortify our possessions and even reclaim features forming part of our EEZ to expand our coverage, let us also do that as well.
Encourage our huge fishing fleets to deploy part of their group to fish in and around the disputed areas? Why not? If we abhor the presence of the Chinese fishing fleets in those areas, to my mind the best way to counter that is to have part of our own huge fleets to get there and fish. That way, we establish our presence in a friendlier and maybe more competitive way. If we only have a smattering of local fisher folk with their limited capacities doing the rounds in the area, then we will continue to be whining about the “Chinese incursions.” But if we escort our own huge fishing boats to the area and ensure that they get their fair share of the resources, we will have a better chance of spreading our wings, so to speak, and fortify our standing in the area.
It is very possible that with these additional peaceful initiatives we will be able to lower the tensions caused by the continuing cries of “victimhood” thrown our way by those whose only solution to the dispute in the WPS/SCS seem to be bringing the country to the brink of a shooting war. Not even Vietnam whose military is, by all indications, more prepared than ours to do battle with China has gone that far after retreating from a brief shooting war with the Chinese some years ago. In fact, I am told those in charge of their fishing industry have entered into a modus vivendi with the Chinese on this score and are doing just fine. Why can’t we do the same while maintaining our claims under UNCLOS and the arbitral award and enhancing our position in and around the areas already under our control?