Duterte’s Half-Truths in West Philippine Sea Controversy

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Shortly after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte presented his “ace”, former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile who spoke about the West Philippine Sea controversy, a group of retired generals meanwhile issued a statement that denounced Duterte’s stand. This was followed by a statement of lawyers from Duterte’s very own alma mater, San Beda College of Law. Seemed like Mr. Duterte does not have a very solid line of support when it comes to WPS.

Feeling the heat, Duterte now asked his political allies to just shut their mouths when it comes to WPS. The president wants a de-escalation. The thing is, it seems that Duterte does not have the power anymore to restrain this growing conflagration that already engulfed the entire Filipino public sphere.

Duterte is correct— that arbitral ruling needs enforcement thru force. He is wrong however, in saying that we can’t do anything about it. Using the international community as a pulpit works in an anarchical international system. Remember that China, although an economic as well as a military force, relies on good will and a good reputation. What China is doing right now at the West Philippine Sea shows its poor record in honoring international conventions such as the UNCLOS. This behavior may very well be used by other powers in dealing with China in the case of the Arctic Council where China is vying for recognition as an Arctic Power.

So, Duterte must recognize that even though there is no political hegemon that serves as a police man in the international community of nations, there is this prevailing institution where states are expected to behave with civility and respect of one’s Honor and words. Force or the threat of its use, is an outdated Realist perspective.

China will definitely not go to war or even nuke us to oblivion only because of those isles and rocks jutting out of the West Philippine Sea. No right thinking state would ever even consider that. China is also not foolish to invade the Philippines because that would really spark a conventional war that China is not ready to undertake. Imagine the loss of economic and political opportunities such a scenario will surely bring.

The Duterte administration must continue filing diplomatic protests because that will show how resolute we are in asserting our internationally-accepted rights over those isles within our Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Just shrugging our shoulders and showing the Chinese that we are weak and helpless do not put much value on our cause.

What the Philippine government must do is undertake a communications offensive against Chinese intrusions into our territory. Where there is a breakdown in diplomacy, third track efforts are necessary for even small countries like ours to effectively stand toe-to-toe with superpowers.

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