Questions for bets on sea row

>> Saturday, March 12, 2016

Val G. Abelgas

I agree completely with Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that the five presidential candidates should make known their stand in the ongoing dispute between the Philippines and China over several islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
Carpio said at a public lecture last week that the candidates must lay down their plan for the territorial dispute, which, he said, threatens not just the country’s borders but also its fisheries, oil reserves and other critical resources within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“If they are elected and they become President, and if this case is not yet decided, are they going to continue with the arbitration or withdraw the arbitration?” Carpio said. “If elected President, are they going to enter into joint development with China? Because the condition of China for joint development is [that] we concede sovereignty to them and they will give us 50 percent of resources within our EEZ.”
I asked similar questions in an article in this corner in May last year (“Sea row: Where do the candidates stand?”):
“Will they stand with China in resolving the territorial disputes through bilateral talks? Will they continue Aquino’s hardline stance against China on the dispute? Will they collaborate with China in anticipation of China’s rise as an economic and military superpower? Or will they continue to align with the US in the looming battle for supremacy in the region? Are they ready to embrace the US’s return to the Philippines in exchange for its support and protection? How do they intend to resolve the conflict without bringing the country to war?
At that time, only Vice President Jojo Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) had made clear his stand. I wrote then:
“Vice President Jejomar Binay, who continues to lead presidential surveys albeit with narrowing margin, has already revealed his stand on the issue in a recent interview when he said that if he were elected president, he would support China’s call for “bilateral talks” between the two countries over their territorial disputes and that he favored “joint ventures” with China.
“This stand would significantly soften the current Philippine policy towards China on the issue, and would be a repeat of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s misadventures with China.
“Binay has clearly defined his stand on the issue. All the other candidates should reveal the strategy they intend to pursue in dealing with China regarding the territorial disputes. The voters have the right to know where the candidates stand on this very important issue.”
The other candidates have since revealed their stands on the raging issue through the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s series on the presidential bets. In that article (“Agenda of the next president: Foreign policy”), Binay reiterated his openness to a bilateral dialogue with China, but somehow took the middle stand by adding that he would “pursue all other legal options to promote our sovereign rights.”
He said: “A Binay presidency will be firm in upholding our national interest while promoting a constructive bilateral dialogue with other countries such as China. At the same time, it will also pursue all other legal options to promote our sovereign rights, including continued consultation with and securing the support of the international community and our allies. Most of the disputed areas are in international waters and, therefore, keeping air and sea lanes open will not be a concern for the Philippines alone but for the international community as well. By having this common interest, countries, including China, will need to resolve disputes through dialogue and the rule of international law.”
Former Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, the administration and Liberal Party candidate, expectedly said he would continue “to pursue our claims at the United Nations. Our progress in the arbitration case in the International Tribunal on the Laws of the Seas (ITLOS) signifies our commitment to the rule of law—whoever you are, whatever your country is, in the eyes of the law, we are all equal.”
Roxas also said the country would, at the same time, work with other nations to come up with a Binding Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. In the same breath, however, Roxas made sure not to antagonize China as he said: “But we also recognize that this issue is not the totality of our relations with China. At the end of the day, we want to achieve stability, which is in the interest of all parties involved. Without stability, we can’t have long-lasting prosperity. Otherwise, our country’s economic resurgence will always be under threat.”
Sen. Grace Poe did not offer specific plans, but said in general terms that her administration would “adhere to international law in settling disputes with other countries and seek alliances with those who share the same values.” She added that the Philippines must assume a leadership role in Asean, and “strengthen our international bargaining power by nurturing a stronger, more relevant economy with a modern armed forces.”
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, like Binay, said he will be “open to dialogue with China but with the involvement of Asean since the dispute covers several countries with similar interests to the Philippines. While our legitimate claim initiated at the United Nations will proceed, we need to engage in peaceful dialogue as well.” Unlike Binay, though, Duterte is in favor of a multilateral dialogue, which would involve all claimants and the Asean, which is also the stand of the Aquino administration.
The fifth candidate, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, said: “I will adopt a second level of diplomacy with regard to the West Philippine Sea dispute, as the other party takes keen interest in bilateral negotiation bordering on conciliation, relying apparently on the principles set forth in the UNCLOS, Part 15, Section 1. It is not true at all that the Arbitral Tribunal of UNCLOS, Annex 7, may decide on the Philippine side in the face of China’s excepting itself from the application of Articles 297 and 298 of the UNCLOS.”
If my interpretation is right, Santiago favors a bilateral dialogue with China just like Binay and her running mate, Sen. Bongbong Marcos.
I hope that the moderators in the next presidential debate will ask pertinent questions on the territorial dispute with China so that the voters would have a clearer picture on how they stand on the burning issue.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, said it expects a decision by the International Arbitration Tribunal on the Philippine case against China by May. That would be around the time of the election and before the next president assumes position on June 30, 2016.
This early, the people have the right to know what the five candidates would do in case the Philippines won the case. How does he or she intend to make China abide by the arbitration decision, knowing that China, which has refused to participate in the proceedings, has clearly stated that it would not abide by any decision of the tribunal? If elected, will that candidate use the legal victory as leverage and sit down for a bilateral dialogue with China?”
If in the remote possibility that the tribunal decides against the Philippines, how will the next president proceed? Will he just give up sovereignty to China?
If the tribunal bides for more time to make its decision, what will the candidate do if he is elected president?
These and other related questions need answers from those who wish to become president in 2016. And we need them now before we decide on whom to vote. (


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