PH sea dispute win: Not the time to be meek, US-based group says
MANILA, Philippines – A US-based Filipino advocacy organization called on the Philippine government to take a bold stance in the South China Sea dispute, on the heels of Manila's victory before an international tribunal challenging China's expansive claims in the disputed area.
Days before the arbitral tribunal in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague handed down its historic ruling, President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines won't "flaunt" the verdict, should the tribunal rule in its favor.
But for Rogelio Santos, Manila coordinator of the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USPGG), the Philippines should take advantage of the tribunal's ruling.
"I find it ironic that at the heels of one of the most positive and monumental, unprecedented victory that the country could have, it could actually set us backwards if we don't take that into full force. I don't believe now is the time to be meek, it is a time to be bold," he said, hours before the PCA announced the ruling on Tuesday, July 12.
He added, however, that at this early stage of the Duterte administration, he was willing to give the country's new leaders the benefit of the doubt.
"But that stated, I know this. I know that actions speak louder than words, and I look for strong action from them. However, in their position, words are actions," he said.
While the government may be cautious in its public statements over the South China Sea dispute, Santos said the stronger voice can come from ordinary citizens' groups.
"We came together because we knew we can say the things they couldn't say. We rely on the fact that they're taking the proper channels for diplomacy, but at the end of the day, we also know that sentiments of the world for the Philippines is important," he said.
Santos also said that downplaying the ruling is the government's prerogative, but added that he believes it was a mistake.
"The rhetoric between [Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto] Yasay and the current position of downplaying the ruling, it's his prerogative, but I believe that it's a mistake. Honestly, the world is his to lose," he said.
With Manila's victory against Beijing comes another question: would the Philippines be able to enforce the ruling? Even during arguments at the PCA, China has repeatedly said that it would not recognize any ruling from the tribunal.
Santos said the favorable ruling would be able to buy the Philippines enough time to gain "sustainable leverage" to enforce the ruling.
He also said that world powers with a stake in the issue would be willing to come to the Philippines' aid.
"The world wants to help us. All we have to do is ask," he said.
Santos added that the USPGG is proposing a "civilian" solution to the dispute that would provide the Asian superpower a "face-saving exit."
The group wants the United Nations (UN) to step in and supervise the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, creating a "maritime peace zone" that would serve as an "ecotourism protectorate area." (READ: Turn South China Sea into a marine reserve?)
"Both countries would agree that the UN take over in terms of regulating the area....What it provides is a way for both countries to actually agree and save face without having to give up on any disputed claims, but at the same time, we maintain peace in the area," Santos said.
Eric Lachica, the group's coordinator in Washington, DC, added: "It's like a chess game....How do you checkmate the Chinese dragon? The only way you can beat the Chinese dragon is have the worldwide community hold them accountable." – Rappler.com
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