In what many considered as a bold move, the government under President Benigno S. Aquino III (P-Noy) has announced last January 22 the elevation of our territorial dispute with China to the UN (United Nations) for international arbitration. This is a recourse that China has been frowning upon, preferring to keep the disputes in the South China only between the countries concerned where China enjoyed the size and weight advantage.
Our government has been trying to pursue political, diplomatic and legal approaches but the recent actuations of China forced us to elevate the dispute to international arbitration — lest we suffer in default. China had issued a new map that encompasses practically the entire West Philippine Sea. Not only that — China has sent more navy ships in the disputed area and they’ve been acting like they’re the sole owners. We had to challenge China’s claim in order to protect our national territory and maritime domain.
In elevating our claim to international arbitration, we’ll be asking the arbitral tribunal to issue an award in accordance with international law that will direct China to respect our sovereign rights and jurisdiction over our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), continental shelf, contiguous zone, and territorial sea over the West Philippine Sea. Equally important, we want the UN to order China to refrain from further violating our rights.
The P-Noy government believes that we have a strong case, based on international law, more specifically the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). Based on previous UN cases, the process could take 3 to 4 years. The 3 to 4 years is better than this uncertainty that we have been facing ever since China unveiled its naked fist.
Despite China’s objections against international arbitration, this move is consistent with the P-Noy government’s policy of protecting our territory by peaceful means of negotiation. The Philippine government acted independently in taking this new course. We neither sought clearance from the US nor their counsel.
There’s wisdom in this move of the P-Noy government. In the light of rising tensions between China and Japan, and disputes with other ASEAN countries, all rooted to territorial claims — the move reinforced in the mind of the Chinese leaders that we are consistent with our announced policy of employing peaceful means. Arbitration is negotiating through a common friend, in this case the UN. With all the sabre rattling between Japan and China, it’s wise to simply whisper to the ear of the Chinese dragon that we’re all for peaceful negotiation.
On our own, there’s no military option for our country in this dispute. Those who have been suggesting ways and means to strengthen our armed forces to the level that can repel the Chinese military threat are dreaming. That’s a path that’s too costly and impractical for an AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) that’s been stuck on internal conflict mode since the 1950s. Even if given the hardware to fight China, you can’t expect our AFP to be battle ready overnight.
We also don’t know how far the US is willing to go in this dispute over the South China Sea. Remember that the NIC (National Intelligence Council) of the US had forecasted the rise of a dominant China in its 2025 Global Trends Report. One thing for sure is that the US will not risk jeopardizing the early signs of its economic recovery to fight for an Asian country. In an age of missile warfare, that big US naval flotilla of the 7th fleet could be sitting ducks to Chinese missiles. Expect Chinese military capabilities to be geared towards known US capabilities.
We shouldn’t underestimate what Filipino wit and charm can accomplish. That is what we should now employ in dealing with all the big sharks preying around a small sardine like us. The most important task for the Filipino during these days of immense national peril is to rally around the flag. There are over 90 million of us and our voices, if raised in unity, cannot be disregarded. If we allow ourselves to be disunited by the pettiest matters, then we would have lost the day for our future generation.
Let’s not allow the rabble rousing Reds and their many front organizations to mislead and divide us. Their rhetoric — scrap the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) – would only favor China and will surely lead us on the road to perdition. Whatever our opinion is about the VFA, we cannot make that an issue now with the US, not with the mighty Chinese dragon breathing down our necks. Whether we like the US or not, they’re the only counter balance that could make China think twice about unleashing its aggression against the Philippines. Insofar as a military option is concerned, the US is all that we’ve got.
There was this resource person on television last January 22, a Clemente Bautista, from an environment partylist group named Kalikasan, and he was trying to sidetrack the Tubbataha reef accident discussion to a proposed scrapping of the VFA. In the recent Subic Bay brouhaha, the Left also tried to link the issue — alleged toxic waste dumping that was never proved — to a scrapping of the VFA. Like they said — when it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck.
When a mighty external force threatens our country — the first order of business is for our people to unite, and set aflame their patriotic hearts. However, more than the enemy from without, there could be more danger from the enemy within — they who would cause divisions and lead us take the wrong options.
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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”