MANILA—Government should not stop filing diplomatic protests against China and must continue conducting maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea, even when it seems futile.
Atty. Jay Batongbacal, of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said this after several Chinese militia vessels have reportedly returned to the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
"Ganoon talaga. Kahit naman noong unang parte ng taon, noong Marso, ganoon din sila eh. Kumbaga nabulabog, nagdisperse, pero lumipat lang sila actually, ng lugar. 'Yung karamihan lumabas ng ating exclusive economic zone. Pero siyempre, hindi talaga sila umuwi. Umiikot-ikot lang talaga sila diyan sa lugar na 'yan," he told Teleradyo Tuesday.
(That's really what they do. Even during the earlier parts of the year, in March, that's what they did. They just dispersed and transferred to other areas. Most of the ships went out of the exclusive economic zone. But they didn't really leave. They just went around the area.)
"Talagang parte 'yun ng kanilang plano, kumbaga they want to wear us all down. Lahat po ng bansa. Hindi lang Piipinas, pati na po 'yung iba nating neighbors. Ganoon ang ginagawa nila."
(That's really part of their plan. They want to wear us all down. All the countries, not just the Philippines. They do that to all their neighbors.)
Though it may seem ineffective, Batongbacal said the Philippines should continue filing diplomatic protests against China since the purpose of these is to show that the Philippines is asserting its rights in the West Philippine Sea.
"'Yung protest kasi, ang purpose niyan talaga para lang ma-preserve 'yung kumbaga legal situation, 'no? Na klaro na hindi tayo nag-give up sa ating mga legal rights and entitlements," he said.
(The purpose of the protests is to preserve the legal situation, to make it clear that we are not giving up our legal rights and entitlements.)
But these protests should be accompanied by maritime patrols and other activities, Batongbacal added.
"Pero hindi 'yun enough kasi kailangan may pasunod 'yan sa mga activities, mga aksyon, katulad nga ng mga patrols at iba pang statements in other diplomatic fora. Tapos dapat din nating ipinapakita na hindi tayo aatras," he added.
(But that is not enough. We should accompany it with activities, actions like patrols and other statements in diplomatic fora. We should also show that we will not back down.)
For Batongbacal, the Chinese presence in the West Philippine Sea is something that will go on for a long time.
"Talaga hong pangmatagalang activity 'yan dahil ang plano ho talaga ng Tsina, para mapasakanila 'yan, kumbaga pasukin nila nang pasukin, hanggang sa kumbaga tayo na 'yung mag-give up at tayo na ang kusang umalis," he said.
(It's really a protracted activity because that's part of China's plan. It's like just enter the area until we give up and just leave them.)
"That way, hindi man lang nila tayo ge-giyerahin. Patigasan na lang. Kaya ganoon ang ginagawa nila," Batongbacal added.
(That way, they don't need to wage a war against us. It's just a matter of who's going to give up first.)
For Batongbacal, the Philippines should not yield.
"Dapat lang na mag-conduct pa rin tayo ng mga patrols natin, ano? Hindi naman tayo naghahanap ng basag-ulo, 'ika nga ni Secretary Mercado, ano? Pero kailangang ipakita natin na talagang pinaninindigan natin 'yung ating mga karapatan, 'yung ating entitlements sa natural resources na ito. At 'pag nakita natin sila na ginagawa 'yung paninira, pagwawasak doon sa mga natural resources, pagkukuha ng ating mga pangisdaan, eh talagang dapat sisitahin natin lagi sila, kahit hindi ito kumbaga makapigil," he explained.
(We should continue with our patrols. It's not like we're looking for war, but we should assert our rights, our entitlements in the natural resources in the area. And once we see them destroying the natural resources, or taking over our fishing grounds, when we should continue calling them out, even if it does not stop them.)
"In the meantime, talagang dapat nakikita ng buong mundo kung ano 'yung ginagawa nila doon buwan buwan, taon taon ano. 'Yan lang ang pag-asa natin na in the long run, sila rin itong, sila 'yung maka-realize na hindi rin tayo susuko at dahil doon, maghahanap din sila ng ibang paraan na lang para magkaroon ng mas maayos na relasyon sa atin. Para sa kanila naman, mas disadvantageous din na kaaway nila lahat ng neighbors nila eh," Batongbacal added.
(In the meantime, the whole world should know what China is doing there. That is our only hope, that in the long run, they would realize that we will not back down, and that they should look for other ways to have a better relationship with us. Because it will also be disadvantageous for them to be at odds with all their neighbors.)
Just a few weeks ago, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it protested what it regarded as fresh "provocative acts" by Chinese vessels in the South China Sea.
The Philippines has so far filed 211 diplomatic notes against China since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power amid its continuing incursions in the country's waters, the DFA also said.
Earlier this year, hundreds of Beijing's ships were also spotted around the West Philippine Sea, the country's EEZ in the vast, resource-rich South China Sea.
Philippines authorities described their presence as an incursion.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has been conducting patrols in the West Philippine Sea.
Beijing maintains a constant presence of coast guard and fishing boats in the international waterway to assert its claim of sovereignty, including hundreds in the Spratly islands, where Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia also have claims.
This is despite the Arbitral Tribunal in 2016 concluding that there is no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within its so-called "nine-dash line.”
China has refused to recognize the Award, calling it “illegal, null and void.”
Duterte has refused to press China to follow the court's ruling, as he pursued investments and loans from the economic superpower.
In May, Duterte called the arbitral award a scrap of "paper" that belongs to the wastebasket. But that same month, he said he would not withdraw Philippine ships from the waterway.
Analysts and several countries earlier warned China of its incursions in the West Philippine Sea, as it could threaten regional stability.