PH must find consistent, long-term position on West Philippine Sea: maritime law expert

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 21 2021 01:11 PM | Updated as of May 21 2021 01:14 PM

MANILA - The Philippine government must find a consistent and long-term position that will transcend politics in addressing the West Philippine Sea dispute with China, a maritime law expert said Friday.

Professor Jay Batongbacal, Director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the West Philippine Sea issue is not just based on who is sitting as president, but what officials are actually doing to address it.

“Kung anong gagawin niya ngayon magkakaroon ng epekto sa mga susunod pang administrasyon,” Batongbacal said.

(Whatever he [the President] does now will have a effect on the succeeding administrations.)

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In an interview on TeleRadyo, Batongbacal reiterated the call of former senator and military chief Rodolfo Biazon urging President Rodrigo Duterte to convene the National Security Council to clarify its "confusing" stand, instead of just consulting with his predecessors, on China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

"Dapat niyang kausapin lahat ng nandyan sa proseso na 'yan o nandyan sa isyu na 'yan. Kailangan nilang hanapan kung ano talaga 'yung consistent stand ng Pilipinas na pang matagalan, na hindi base sa pulitika, hindi base sa kung anong gusto nilang ipalabas sa taongbayan, kung 'di sa kung ano ang nasa interes ng Pilipinas bilang bansa,” he said.

(He should talk to everyone involved in that process... They should look for the consistent stand of the Philippines that is long-term, not based on politics, not based on what they want to show to the public but based on the interest of the country.) 

Duterte has pursued friendlier ties with China despite the latter's repeated incursions in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, in exchange for investments, infrastructure funding and most recently, vaccine supply. 

This followed the preceding administration's fighting stance towards China, where at one point it sought arbitration before a United Nations panel that eventually led to victory in 2016, when Duterte was already in power. 

Duterte has set this ruling aside, most recently calling it a mere piece of paper, while China has ignored it. 

Malacañang earlier said there is nothing confusing about Duterte’s stand on the West Philippine Sea. Duterte's policy towards China is to temporarily set aside issues that cause disagreements and push through with commerce and investments, among others, said his spokesman, Secretary Harry Roque.

The Palace has also said Duterte is not keen on convening the NSC, saying nothing is resolved in the body. 

Batongbacal said this indicates he does not want to hear different opinions nor want to have a comprehensive understanding of the situation. 

He said Duterte seems to be only picking among those people who share his views, citing the President's recent meeting with former senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

“Tulad nung nakita natin sa huling nakipag-meeting siya kay Juan Ponce Enrile, parang malinaw na naghahanap lang din siya ng aagree sa kaniyang mga pananaw,” he said.

(Like when he met with Juan Ponce Enrile, it seemed clear that he was just looking for someone who would agree with him.) 

“Malinaw sa taongbayan kung anong gusto nilang gawin ng pamahalaan: hindi magdebate, kung ‘di panindigan ang ating mga karapatan bilang bayan. Ang gobyerno, dapat sundin niya kung anong gusto ng taongbayan, na tumayo naman para sa Pilipino at panindigan karapatan sa West Philippine Sea,” said Batongbacal.

(People know what they want government to do: not to debate but have a firm stand for our rights. The government should follow what people want, take a stand for the Filipino and for our rights in the West Philippine Sea.)