'Don't expect China to remove structures,' says UP's Jay Batongbacal
The director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea said on Wednesday the arbitration verdict may be binding on all parties, but its effects will not be immediate.
Speaking to [email protected], Atty. Jay Batongbacal said it may take decades before China complies with the award from the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague out on Tuesday that said Manila had the right to exploit resources within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
"Don’t be so expectant at this point. Don’t hold your breath. Everything is rather slow especially in this kind of situation where territorial issues are involved, where national positions are on the line," he said.
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However, he maintained that China may realize over time that it will play in its own interest to abide the court's ruling.
"I think over time, China will realize that it will be in its own interest over the long term, especially within the region, with its aspirations of being a respect regional power and its plans of being an engine of economic growth in this area," he said.
CHINESE STRUCTURES TO STAY
But, in the meantime, Batongbacal said the Philippines should not expect China to remove the facilities they have installed in the area, as there were no specific provisions in the award that mandates them to do so.
"At this point, the installations are there, and we’re going to have to live with them for a while, but at least we have just cause to keep telling China that really, they have no right to be there and these installations cause damage to the marine environment," he said.
This, however, would not be able to stop them from being able to beef up their installed facilities.
The decision also does not compel China to provide for compensation for the environmental damage it has caused in the area, but Batongbacal said claims of compensation can be discussed on the negotiating table.
"Compensation need not be monetary. This could be the leverage that we’re looking for to try to, for example, persuade China that these facilities should be opened up for joint use," he said, though noting that possible strategies or specific objectives from the Duterte administration remain unknown.
"What’s important is that there is a foundation now in the judgment and it’s up to the government to maximize the possible gains from this judgment and to keep on trying to push this in the future," he said.
Batongbacal also warned, it may not be wise for the Philippine government to move its naval forces back into the formerly disputed waters, especially since China continues to deploy its forces in the area.
"These kinds of activities could be seen by China as provocative and they might provoke a response unless it is preceded by talks and consultations," he said.
He also advised against the fishermen inching closer to the waters where the Chinese forces are present before Beijing and Manila sit down and talk.
NOT JUST BILATERAL
Peace, Batongbacal said, must be maintained within the region, meaning neither side should take "any provocative actions that would be to the detriment of peace and stability."
He maintained, however, that one of the most important immediate objectives for the Philippines is to re-establish our unimpeded access to West Philippine Sea, and the decision now serves as a foundation for discouraging China from hindering Filipino activities in the area.
This will not be achieved, he said, through bilateral talks alone, which many interpret would be the Duterte administration's course of action.
"This will only be a paper victory if it’s not supported by a coordinated activities and strategies on the military side, on the ASEAN side, on the security alliances side," he said.
"This decision gives us a legal tool, a moral tool, but everything else—geo-political, military, strategic—those will have to be carried out through other activities," he said.