West Philippine Sea an important issue in 2022: think tank exec

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2021 02:52 PM | Updated as of May 12 2021 02:53 PM

MANILA - The West Philippine Sea will be an important issue in the 2022 national elections as it encompasses not just foreign policy but also governance matter, a think tank head said Wednesday.

In an interview on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, Prof. Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies, said that historically, foreign affairs is usually not an important campaign issue, but the West Philippine Sea is different.

“Ang naiba dito, hindi ito foreign affairs. Ninakawan mo ng teritoryo o pagkakataon ang mga Pilipino na mangisda. Makokonek mo sa economic hardships," Manhit said of the sea issue.

"Ngayon, nararamdaman ng tao, lugar ito kung saan nangingisda ang ating kababayan, hirap na sila dahil pa sa COVID. Tanong pa ng iba minsan, papaano, meron bang kapalit itong pagiging malambot natin sa China," he added.

"So, papasok dito ang governance issue. Then this becomes an important national issue.”

(The difference here is, it's not just foreign affairs. You stole the territory or chance for our Filipino fishermen to fish. You can connect it to economic hardships. Now, people feel that this is where our fishermen fish, who are already having a difficult time because of COVID. Many also ask if there is something to gain from our being soft on China. This is where governance issue enters. Then this becomes an important national issue.)

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Manhit said Filipinos want government to be firm in protecting the country’s rights in our territory and exclusive economic zone.

“Ang nais ng taumbayan, panindigan ang ating mga rights—teritoryo o economic zone natin. So, feeling ko maghahanap ng mananagot kung sinuman ang tatakbo sa ano ba yung kaniyang tindig tungkol dito,” he said.

(The public want someone who would stand up for our rights in our territory or economic zones. So I feel that they will ask candidates about their stand on the issue.)

In March, hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, prompting the country to file several diplomatic protests.

“Ako ay naniniwala na it will be an important issue come 2022. Kung sino ang kandidatong makikita ng taumbayan na yan ay malapit sa Tsina, babaliktad ang mga tao. Kasi, 8 out of 10 Filipinos, sa aming pag-aaral, does not trust China,” he said.

(I believe that it will be an important issue come 2022. The public will avoid any candidate who they view as being close to China. Because 8 out of 10 Filipinos, based on our study, does not trust China.)

A United Nations-backed court in 2016 ruled in favor of the Philippines and junked China’s “historical” claims to the South China Sea. However, President Rodrigo Duterte refused to enforce the award in exchange for pledged aid, investments and trade.

“Meron bang pag-aaral na nagpapakitang gumanda ang ating economic relationship sa China? Ang sagot ko, hindi. Dumami ang in-export ng China to the Philippines. Hindi lumaki negosyo natin papuntang China. Hindi lumaki ang investment ng China papunta sa atin. China is a big neighbor, but we have never been that strong in terms of economic relations and this is historical, this is government data,” he said.

(Was there a study that shows our economic relationship with China became better? My answer is no. Exports from China to the Philippines flourished. Our businesses going to China did not increase. China’s investment to the Philippines did not increase.)

Manhit added that the country’s position against China has weakened since 2016, despite the arbitral victory which was not attempted to be enforced. The Philippines, he said, did not attempt to tap other countries for help to enforce the law. 

“The best option, sa aking simpleng pananaw, the more we make this international, mas internationalized, the more na hinihikayat natin ang ibang bansa na bigyang importansiya ito. And it's happening not because of government, but because of international media and satellite pictures. Dumadami ang tumitingin sa mga pangyayari,” said Manhit.

(The best option, in my humble opinion, is to bring this out internationally, to encourage other countries to give it importance. And that is happening now not because of government, but because of media, international media and satellite pictures. Many are now focused on the issue.)