MANILA—A South China Sea expert advised the next president of the Philippines to take a hard look at the current situation in the West Philippine Sea when crafting policies.
"What is your assessment, like Australia has to make, about the strategic environment? Has it deteriorated to the extent that vital Philippine interests are threatened? And what could the Philippines do to protect itself in those circumstances?" Professor Carl Thayer of the Canberra Australian Defence Force Academy said in a webinar.
For Thayer, policies concerning the West Philippine Sea should be done collectively.
"In the Philippines, (it is) not the policy of a single man, not the policy of popularism, but something that has been debated by the public, by the subject matter experts, by government officials current and retired, and by Congress. And that strategy should be drawn up by the incoming administration and presented for that debate and for that endorsement," he said.
For most of his term, President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for issuing contradicting statements: for ditching the 2016 arbitral ruling against China’s 9-dash line claim, while the foreign affairs department released strongly worded statements against China’s occupancy, initiating moves to create stronger ties with the United States to boost military defense.
According to the National Youth Movement for the West Philippine Sea (NYMWPS), Filipino fishermen are still not allowed in some areas in the disputed waters.
"The Chinese vessels are still in Pagasa islands," said NYMWPS founder Dra. Celia Lamkin.
"When they (fishermen) were going to the Secret islands..there many Chinese vessels so they were not able to reach the Secret islands. They have to to the other sandbar, which is three miles away from Pag-asa Islands. They can only go fishing there."
Lamkin added that they have also heard warnings from the foreign fishing vessels.
"Two to 3 weeks ago when the 'Lupang Hinirang' was sung by our brave military men in Kalayaan Islands, there was a warning from . . . A Chinese vessel because it was Chinese talking in the system," she said.
"There are still limited in what waters they(fishermen) can go thru. There is still fear, because they (Chinese vessels) are still there within out territorial waters 2 to 3 nautical miles."
For Thayer, the Philippines can still enforce the arbitral ruling but "not quickly and in a short period of time."
"Put in the pressure on China . . . Work out the modalities on how they could comply now that they have occupied and militarized certain islands. I would argue demilitarization would be one thing," Thayer said.
He also said the Philippines should also not agree to a "weak" Code of Conduct.
"The Philippines has to have the guts, the diplomatic fortitude to tell the other members of the ASEAN that no consensus is not reached," Thayer said.
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