FAIR COMMENT | Alito L. Malinao
The Spratly issue has been there since I covered the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in the late 1990s. But during our reportorial days, China was not belligerent as it is now. It did not construct man-made structures in the South China Sea that include portions of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) nor did it send maritime vessels to the disputed area.
Now China’s belligerence has reached a new level that threatens the peace and stability in the area and that advances China’s hegemony in Southeast Asia.
China’s legislature has passed a new law that took effect February 1 authorizing its Coast Guard to take “all necessary measures, including the use of weapons when its national sovereignty is being illegality infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”
Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, in his column in the Daily Inquirer, described China’s move as another “deadly virus” that it unleashes against the world, particularly against its neighbors, including the Philippines.
Aside from the Philippines, parts of the Spratlys are also claimed by Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam and Taiwan. Brunei, however, is the only claimant that has not occupied any island or territory.
Carpio argued that China’s new law cannot apply to the Philippines because of the July 12, 2016 arbitral ruling that declared China’s nine-dash line as invalid to claim any of the waters or resources within the EEZ of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
The only problem with Carpio’s legal opinion is that China never accepted the arbitral ruling and, in fact, Beijing has, from the start, ignored the whole proceedings at The Hague.
It is almost five years since the issuance of the arbitral ruling but nothing has come out of it. President Duterte relegated the ruling to the backburner and thus it is now practically in limbo.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin, Jr. has filed a strong diplomatic protest against China. In a Twitter post, Locsin said that the new law is a “virtual declaration of war.”
“After reflection, I fired a diplomatic protest. While enacting law is a sovereign prerogative, this one—given the area involved or for that matter the open South China Sea—is a verbal threat of war to any country that defies the law; which, if unchallenged, is submission to it,” Locsin said in Twitter.
But as of last week, Beijing’s foreign ministry has ignored Locsin’s angry protest. Only the Chinese embassy in Manila reacted by saying the new law is a local legislation and is not directed against the Philippines.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who got the ire of Locsin for being incompetent in foreign affairs, has sided with Carpio that the Philippines, along with other Southeast Asian countries, should run to a United Nations tribunal to declare China’s Coast Guard law as void.
With due respect to Carpio and Roque, who are both brilliant lawyers, going to the UN is a futile move.
After spending billions of dollars for international lawyers in arguing our case in The Hague what we got was a pyrrhic victory because China completely ignored the ruling of the tribunal which is a UN body.
Now we are going again to the UN? China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and it can reject any resolution against it with its veto power.