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Do we let greed continue running the world?

During class recitation, Professor Harry Roque asked me which of those 4 factors would be considered the most important.

I answered, "Capacity to enter into agreements with other states."

I was wrong. A state can exist without external recognition for purposes of internal governance.

Maybe government? Nope. Certain countries in civil war, where no singular government exists, are still recognized as states by the United Nations and other countries extending humanitarian aid.

A permanent population then? Another no. People, especially in labor-exporting countries like the Philippines, continuously move and migrate. That does not unmake the existence of their state.

"So what's the answer?" Professor Roque asked. My classmates were laughing good-naturedly. I couldn't possibly get it wrong this time.

"A defined territory, Sir," I said. And it's true. Once the island-nation Tuvalu, for example, loses its territory to encroaching waters due to climate change, it will cease to exist.

To give an example much closer to home: once a foreign country, in this instance China, asserts its dominance over certain land or maritime areas, states that lose such territory lose not only a part of their actual physical areas, but also a part of state property on which they can exercise their supreme sovereignty.

An arbitral tribunal in The Hague has ruled that China’s 9-dash line claim is illegal. This is a win not only for the Philippines but also for other Southeast Asian claimants to the West Philippine Sea. However, recent pronouncements by the newly-elected President and by his inexperienced  Foreign Affairs Secretary have raised eyebrows among informed nationalists and in the international community.

It seems that despite the decision of the arbitration tribunal in our favor, the Philippines will partner with China in order to exploit the natural resources that the West Philippine Sea offers.

The Chinese exploitation, post-arbitral decision

What people have to understand is this: to work with China is to oppress ourselves further.

It will be a losing situation for everyone but the People's Republic. Letting China explore Philippine territory after we have legally ousted them is not only ridiculous, it also defeats our sovereignty and gives uninformed, self-entitled Chinese citizens a huge leverage over us in our own territory.

Image by Nico Villarete / Rappler

Look at what Chinese poachers are already doing to our fishermen, even if they have absolutely NO RIGHT to fish in our waters. What more if we give them preferred partnership status?

Our fishing boats manned by local Filipinos will be nothing compared to their commercial fishing vessels, and Chinese companies will fish the area to depletion. Not only will it be bad for the local fishing industry, it will also be tremendously bad for our environment.

Say we give them permission only to explore the area for natural gases? In any capitalist system, regardless of any negotiations, it is always the one with more money who takes the lion's share of the revenues at the end of the day. In this case, it will be China. And again, look at the environmental impact of this looming action. China's cities are some of the most polluted in the world, because their economic growth has been left unchecked by environmental standards. Do we let the same thing happen to international and Philippine waters?

These two aspects are just a sampling of the consequences that we face once we agree to partner with them, and they are already bad enough.

Remember that the South China Sea provides an estimated $22 billion landed catch value for the fisheries industry as of 2012. It also holds approximately 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Are they worth the few Chinese train lines that we have been promised, trains which are likely to be of low quality and  frequently break down?

When our President promised that change is coming, I hope he never meant peanuts for change.

The crossroads ahead

I agree with President Duterte that we cannot afford a war. We cannot even protect our own citizens from the wanton and reckless killings that policemen and masked vigilantes are doing to raise their quota of drug busts; how more can we protect an entire country with such poor military resources that we might as well be the Vatican?

But is war, or working with China, our only two choices?

Of course not.

The reason for the arbitration was to bring the issue to international attention. Thus far, the US, Germany, and Japan, all powerful countries, are siding with the Philippines in keeping Chinese greed in check. The European Union, notwithstanding Brexit, is being urged to take an active role in patroling the contested waters.

The ASEAN is also expected to pledge its support, with the exception of developing countries where China possesses controlling investments. Only a number of African countries have offered their support to China; Russia is marginally doing so. But these African nations will hardly send troops for China, nor will Russia, which is currently dealing with its own economic difficulties.

The fact is, can revenue-conscious China afford a war with economic giants such as the US, EU, and the ASEAN? Note especially that a huge part of the world’s populations are millennials, who are more likely to support non-large scale industries, the opposite of what China represents. Alienating these growing, powerful markets is a bad investment for China’s global image and continued economic growth.

I repeat: the world is with us. The youth is with us. The markets are with us.  Are we backing down now?

Working with China in exploiting the resources of the West Philippine Sea even after we have won will prove only one thing: that we are a nation of pushovers, who at the slightest threat of displayed peacock feathers will come running to our aggressor to cowardly seek its approval instead of standing our ground.

Professor Roque, during that particular international law class years ago, gave me multiple chances to answer that very basic question in international law, and after so many tries I got it correct. This time, we are not going to be given second chances.

Once our President makes a decision, it will be binding on us, on our children, and on our children's children. I do hope we get the answer right, before it is too late.

Are we going to let greed continue to run the world?

Chad Osorio is Research Associate at UP Law Center’s Institute of International Legal Studies and an intern for the Philippine Law Journal. He is also Head Facilitator and Speaker for the Asian Law Students’ Association International Legal Training and Workshop since 2013. He is currently based in France.