“The country will not lose one inch of its territory,” President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told graduates of the Philippine Military Academy last week, reiterating what he said during his inauguration on June 30 last year.
That he is taking a consistent position on the territorial and maritime dispute with China in the South China Sea is a positive development.
It demonstrates his firm resolve to uphold national sovereignty, territorial integrity and the national interest as mandated by no less than our fundamental law.
The Philippine government should not budge an inch from its duty to defend our Exclusive Economic Zone from Chinese incursions and harassment because we stand on the side of international law and a rules-based international order.
We won our case before the Permanent Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague that affirmed our maritime rights in our EEZ and invalidated China’s outlandish claim of ownership over practically the whole of the South China Sea based on a mythical “nine-dash-line.”
Hence, China has no cogent reason to harass our Coast Guard from defending our EEZ as what its Coast Guard recently did, which was to flash a military-grade laser in the direction of our own Coast Guard vessel performing a resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal we claim as part of our EEZ.
We need to take a two-pronged approach to this issue.
On one hand, we should continue to build a credible defense posture and modernize our military so we can effectively counter bullying and intimidation by the China Coast Guard and maritime militia disguised as civilian fishing vessels in our EEZ.
And on the other, we should intensify diplomatic efforts to gain international support behind our stand against China’s intensified acts of aggression in the South China Sea.
Our treaty ally United States was the first to issue a statement of support: “The PRC’s conduct was provocative and unsafe (as it interfered) with the Philippines’ lawful operations in and around Second Thomas Shoal.”
The Japanese embassy in Manila agreed with this stand: “All states should respect maritime order based on international law, in particular UNCLOS, and recall that 2016 Arbitral Award is final and legally binding. We firmly oppose any action that increases tensions.”
Canada expressed its “firm and unwavering” support for Manila, urging Beijing to comply with its international obligation as party to UNCLOS.
“Recent actions that disrupted the lawful operations of Philippine vessels off the coast of the Philippines are in violation of international law and contrary to the maintenance of regional peace and stability, and the rules-based international order.”
Germany also called out China’s “intimidatory action” against the PCG: “All states must abide by UNCLOS. The 2016 Arbitral Award is final and legally binding.”
And Australia also described China’s actions toward the Philippines “unsafe and intimidatory…We continue to call for peace, stability and respect for international law in the South China Sea, a vital international waterway.”
We need to muster much broader international support to deter China from committing more acts of aggression in our EEZ, or else we will wake up one day to find what is rightfully ours irretrievably lost.