[ANALYSIS] West Philippine Sea strategy in total disarray

Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio

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[ANALYSIS] West Philippine Sea strategy in total disarray
Certainly, the Filipino people do not deserve this. This only means that we have a long struggle ahead of us.

We must continue to defend our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Otherwise, in the near future our fishing boats will not only be rammed in the WPS like F/B GenVer 1 was rammed one year ago, but all our fishing boats, as well as our navy and coast guard ships, will even be barred from crossing China’s nine-dashed line in the WPS. 

Our dispute with China is clear. China wants to make the nine-dashed line China’s national boundary in the WPS. China wants to seize at least 80% of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and 100% of our extended continental shelf (ECS), in the WPS. That means we will lose a maritime area larger than our total land area. We will lose all the fish, oil, gas and other mineral resources in this huge maritime area. We, of course, want to defend and preserve our EEZ and ECS in the WPS.

The strategy of China is clear. China is bullying and intimidating the Philippines into accepting the nine-dashed line as China’s national boundary.

By building huge air and naval bases in the Spratlys, by constantly patrolling our EEZ with missile-armed frigates and destroyers, by sending swarms of maritime militia vessels to our territorial seas in the Spratlys, by locking our smaller warships to the radar fire control system of their better armed and larger warships, and by ramming our fishing vessels in our own EEZ, China hopes to intimidate the Philippines into accepting the nine-dashed line as China’s national boundary.

Appeasing China

The strategy of the Philippines under the Duterte administration is also clear.  The Philippines will never offend China, and the Philippines will always appease China. The Duterte administration has set aside the arbitral ruling in the expectation of receiving loans and investments from China. We have set aside the arbitral ruling but the expected amount of  loans and investments from China have not materialized.  

Still we refuse to conduct joint patrols with Vietnam or Malaysia in each other’s EEZ because we do not want to offend China. We do not welcome the FONOPS of the US and other naval powers in the WPS because we do not want to offend China, even if these FONOPS are the most robust enforcement of the arbitral ruling. 

We declined the invitation of Vietnam to delineate our overlapping ECS in the Spratlys because we do not want to offend China, even if such delineation reinforces the arbitral ruling by state practice.  We refuse to file our ECS claim off the coast of Luzon facing the South China Sea because we do not want to offend China, even as Malaysia and Vietnam have filed their own ECS claims in the SCS.   

We are shy in using our own arbitral victory to protest China’s creeping encroachment of our EEZ, even as Indonesia uses the arbitral ruling in its diplomatic protest against China’s encroachment of Indonesia’s EEZ.

The Philippines even announced on February 11, the termination of the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in six-month’s time as if we do not need any military ally in defending our territory and maritime zones from encroachment by a nuclear-armed China. All of this, of course, is music to China’s ears. 

Has the Philippines’ strategy countered China’s strategy?

Scarborough base

Obviously not, and recent events have only shown how our strategy to defend the WPS is in total disarray. China recently abundantly hinted it would soon declare an Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ over the SCS. And the response of the Philippines was to suspend the running of the six-month period to terminate the VFA.

When China hinted it will establish an ADIZ over the SCS, it only meant one thing. China will very soon put up an air and naval base on Scarborough Shoal, without which an ADIZ over the SCS cannot be enforced because of a hole in China’s radar, missile and jet fighter coverage in the northeast section of the SCS in the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal. 

In early 2016, China sent dredgers steaming from the coast of Guangdong to Scarborough Shoal. US satellites monitored the dredgers. President Obama called President Xi Jinping  that the US would take serious measures if the dredgers proceeded to reclaim Scarborough Shoal. The Chinese dredgers turned back.  

Will the six-month or even one-year suspension of the termination of the VFA stop China from reclaiming Scarborough Shoal?  Will the US exert all its effort to stop the reclamation of Scarborough Shoal knowing that the VFA will in any event be terminated after six-months or one-year? 

No to whim

A strong and effective alliance cannot be made to depend on a treaty, as the VFA is a treaty, that is terminated on a whim, and then suddenly suspended from termination for six-months to one year,  with a threat to finally terminate it thereafter. That is not how the territorial integrity and maritime zones of a state are defended. That is compelling proof of a foreign and defense policy in total disarray. 

We are probably just lucky that China’s nine-dashed line claim is so outrageous, so ridiculous, so fake and so destabilizing that despite our erratic and self-destructive  policies, our Asean coastal neighbors, and the naval powers of the world, will never accept China’s claim to ownership of the SCS.  Even small coastal states outside our region will oppose China’s claim for fear that their bigger neighbors might emulate China and seize their own EEZs. 

This fortuitous situation allows the Philippines to muddle through even with a defense and foreign policy on the WPS that mainly appeases the very state that admittedly intends to seize Philippine territory and  maritime zones.  

Certainly, the Filipino people do not deserve this. This only means that all of us in this online forum today, who are dedicated to defending the WPS to our last breath, have a long struggle ahead of us. We remain undaunted, we will persevere, and we will prevail. –


Retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Carpio delivered these closing remarks at the ADR webinar on the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday, June 9. 

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