Back to The Hague: Bringing PH Maritime Issue Into the News Agenda
“WELL, WE are friends. We do not want to quarrel with you. We would want to maintain the present warm relationship. But if you force the issue, we will go to war.”
This, according to President Rodrigo Duterte, was Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response, when Duterte said that he was going to drill for oil in the Philippine-claimed portions of the South China Sea. Speaking at a Philippine Coast Guard convention in Davao City last May 19, Duterte was trying to explain why he has not pursued the legal victory given to the Philippines by the arbitral court, which in July last year acknowledged the Philippines’ maritime claims over certain rocks and features in the South China Sea. China has refused to acknowledge the ruling, and has continued to build military garrisons in areas claimed by the Philippines and other nations.
Stressing that the Philippines cannot possibly win against China in a military confrontation, Duterte justified his inaction by saying he did not want a “massacre.”
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying did not directly comment on Duterte’s statement, saying only that China would “work with the Philippines to peacefully resolve disputes through friendly consultation.”
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio however said the President could have done more: In a May 29 interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source, Carpio said that if Xi did threaten war, then Duterte could have sought the help of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations’ Arbitral Tribunal, the two international bodies which could pressure China to comply with the arbitral ruling. Carpio also pointed out that under the UN Charter, to which both Philippines and China are signatories, countries may not use the threat of force. He added that Duterte’s inaction implies acquiescence to China’s de facto occupation of the contested area.
A week after CNN Philippines’ interview, Carpio was at the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI)’s “Meet Inquirer Media” forum, where he warned that the Philippine government’s failure to stand up to China could result in “Finlandization.”
“Unless we do something, we will be like Finland, a nominally independent country. We will have our own political system but when it comes to foreign affairs, we follow the foreign policies of China. That is what Finlandization means,” Carpio said.
With regards the harassment of Filipino fishermen from Infanta, Pangasinan by the Chinese Coast Guard in Scarborough Shoal, Carpio said the government could file a complaint before the arbitration court in The Hague. The fishermen, he added, should report the harassment and ask for payment of damages.
Dedicated programs and forums expand the discussion of unresolved issues, such as the South China Sea dispute. With the Marawi siege in Mindanao and the Resorts World Manila attack taking up a huge chunk of airtime and print space in media coverage, CNN Philippines and the Inquirer did well in following up the President’s statements on the South China Sea controversy, and its implications on the Philippine’s hard-won rights over its maritime claims. Apart from reporting the day-to-day news, the media should keep up with unresolved issues to remind the government and public of the urgent need for a clear strategy to protect the country’s territorial integrity.
Addressing China’s show of force, the government should pursue available options and undertake vigorous diplomatic efforts to gain global support for the country’s legitimate territorial claims.