MANILA—The next Philippine administration should "find the balance" between asserting the country’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea while managing its relations to China, a retired military general said Tuesday.
During a webinar on strategic Philippine foreign relations, retired Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Emmanuel Bautista batted for a multilateral approach in addressing maritime disputes with Beijing.
“We need to manage our relations with China insofar as addressing the territorial dispute," he said.
"But we need to leverage also our partnerships and alliances especially expand our multilateral relationships to advance the rule of law and to advance national interest," added Bautista, also a member of the board of trustees of the Foundation for the National Interest.
For maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, the government must continue to uphold the rule of law through diplomacy in the West Philippine Sea amid China’s assertiveness.
"The best that we can do is to try to do as much as we can that that assertiveness does not result in our losing or surrendering our own interest and our rights and entitlements to that because that would basically mean giving up on our rights and entitlements under law,” he said.
Batongbacal said the Philippines remains open to any player in its continental shelf in exploring petroleum as long as it complies with all the procedures and criteria under Philippine laws and regulation.
The Philippines, he said, has insisted on having China as a partner under the service contract system but China has refused to do so.
“If the idea is to have China come in as a partner under the service contract system, then why not? Actually that has been the position taken by the Philippine panel who is doing these talks and up to now as we have seen, it has been in a deadlock because China absolutely refuses to do that," Batongbacal said.
Meanwhile, UP political science department chair and UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies Strategic Studies Program convenor Herman Kraft stressed the need for foreign policy issues to be part of the public discourse.
"There should be multiple, multi-faceted ways by which this becomes a public debate, meaning to say, that foreign policy issues, whether you are focusing on the West Philippine Sea or speaking about making foreign policy issues integral to how people actually see their lives and how they see the country, is probably something that’s going to be important," he said.