Manila Standard : A good start in foreign policy

By Orlando Oxales | Manila Standard

“(President-elect Marcos) would uphold the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling. nullifying China’s so called ‘nine-dash’ claim of almost the whole of South China Sea”

Yet another diplomatic protest has been filed by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs against China’s unilateral three-and-a-half month fishing moratorium in the South China Sea which would ban our fishermen in parts of our sovereign territories in the West Philippine Sea.

The DFA’s diplomatic note dated May 30, 2022 reiterated a continuing protest against China’s practice of declaring an annual fishing ban overextending China’s legitimate maritime entitlement under the 1982 UNCLOS.

The DFA emphasized this “has no basis in law, and undermines the mutual trust, confidence, and respect that should underpin bilateral relations.”

The United States supported the Philippine diplomatic protest and called on China “to abide by its obligations under international law.”

In a statement by US State Department, spokesperson Ned Price said, “The PRC’s unilateral fishing moratorium in the South China Sea is inconsistent with the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling and international law as reflected in UNCLOS.”

This latest diplomatic bump with China comes just a few days after President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said in an interview that he would uphold the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, nullifying China’s so called “nine-dash” claim of almost the whole of South China Sea and vowed to protect Philippine sovereign rights.

Marcos used strong words, saying, “We will not allow a single square, and maybe make it even more smaller, single square millimeter of our maritime coastal and up to 200 kilometers rights to be trampled upon.”

A turnaround that many geopolitical analysts and WPS advocates welcomed as a pivot towards the right direction from his pronouncements last year that he would continue the appeasement foreign policy stance of outgoing President Duterte.

In last week’s Stratbase ADR Institute virtual town hall discussion on The Future of Philippine Foreign Policy: Transforming into a Maritime Power, top Philippine geopolitical analysts see BBM’s pronouncement to uphold the arbitral ruling and defend the Philippines’ sovereignty and “not compromise it in any way” as a chance to develop a more response national security agenda.”

The institute’s President Prof. Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit, who authored “A Responsive and Strategic Foreign Policy Outlook in an Interconnected and Multipolar World,” one of the 16 special papers in Stratbase’s strategic policy book, “Beyond the Crisis: A Strategic Agenda for the Next President,” stressed in his statement during the forum the urgency for a more responsive and strategic foreign policy that would implement a clear, cohesive, and consistent foreign policy direction and develop the country’s comprehensive power according to its military, economic, scientific, and cultural capabilities.

During the open discussion on what mistakes of the Duterte administration should the Marcos administration avoid and what should we expect in the first 100 days, Prof. Manhit recounted how the billions of investments promised, among the pillars of Duterte’s preference towards China, did not happen and though our economy moved forward, “we lost the opportunity to harness our international political capital among countries with shared values, with those who believe in a rules-based international order.”

He pressed on the need for a cohesive, consistent, and responsive foreign policy direction with initiatives to generate investments that create opportunities for jobs that will provide better income for Filipinos.

Stratbase ADRi Trustee and Program Convenor Dr. Renato de Castro noted how the Duterte administration was very vague on the notion of independent foreign policy in contrast to the president-elect’s strongly worded foreign policy pronouncement to uphold the Hague ruling.

He espouses a defense budget of 2 percent of the GDP supporting a national security strategy that focuses on maritime capabilities while strengthening and developing interoperability with allies.

Dr. Chester Cabalza, President and Founder, International Development and Security Cooperation, said to have an independent foreign policy, the Philippines’ national security infrastructure must be developed by investing on the territorial defense operations amidst continuing diplomatic and economic rapprochements with China.

For his part, retired Rear Admiral Rommel Ong, Chairperson, Security Reform Initiative Inc. and

Professor of Praxis of the Ateneo School of Government, concurs with the need to work with our alliances or partners either in a multilateral or minilateral arrangements, given the convergence of interest in terms of maritime space and opportunities for cooperation with other countries.

“We need to protect our blue economy by having a strong maritime defense posture which will secure that economy,” he said.

Perhaps responding to nationwide studies revealing an overwhelming eight out of 10 Filipinos’ strong expectations on government to assert sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, President-elect Marcos’s first policy pronouncement which now unshelves and invokes the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling is a relieving development that with serious action will put our country in a stronger position against China’s asymmetric aggression, without going to war.