MANILA, Philippines – The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, when approaching China, should assert the historic Hague ruling over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) or risk losing the respect of the international community, former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja Jr said on Monday, October 10.
“We have to execute, implement, our awards which the arbitral panel sweepingly gave us,” he told Rappler. “If we do not do it, we would lose the respect of the international community, our allies, and maybe Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).”
In July, an arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines after a 3-year process that was mostly snubbed by China.
The tribunal, according to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), concluded that there was “no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources, in excess of the rights provided for by the Convention, within the sea areas falling within the ‘9-dash line.’” (READ: Highlights of ruling: China violated Philippine sovereign rights)
‘Not exchange bananas and pineapples for Scarborough’
Duterte has been laying low in asserting the Philippines’ claims, adding that there is a “proper time” to bring up the Hague ruling.
On October 10, in fact, Duterte emphasized that he would not dwell on Scarborough Shoal during his upcoming trip to China.
Anger, he said, will amount to nothing given that the Philippines does not have the capabilities to defend itself.
Baja, however, said that waiting for too long may have done more harm than good.
“Of course, the President said he will put the awards on the side and cultivate confidence-building measures first by sending [Fidel V. Ramos] there, but for how long?” the former foreign affairs undersecretary asked.
“It has been, what, nearly 3 months after the award. We may be seen by China as not that serious and of course, they know that we are weak and that is not good,” he continued.
Duterte, Baja added, should remember that Scarborough Shoal is vital to Philippine security and should not be exchanged for anything.
“What I am trying to say is that we should not exchange bananas and pineapples for Scarborough Shoal,” Baja explained. “It is so strategic to both our fishermen and our security. There should not be any compromise for that one.”
Prioritize other countries, not Russia
Aside from China, the present administration is also looking at fostering an alliance with Russia.
In September, Duterte said that he already discussed this possibility with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during the ASEAN Summit in Laos.
He told Medvedev that he is about to “cross the Rubicon” with the United States and will be needing help from Russia “in everything.”
This is highly unlikely because according to Baja, Russia is not setting its eye on Asian countries at the moment. Its focus is on European countries given the current environment.
“They have an equally unpredictable head and I don’t see going to Russia as an advantage of stewing our traditional allies where advantages could be had,” he explained.
The better thing to do right now when it comes to diplomacy and alliances is to “prioritize other countries”, specifically India.
“India is a potential substantial partner, whether security or economic and trade,” Baja said. “We haven’t looked at the South Asian region, as our focus has been on others.” – Rappler.com