MANILA, Philippines – China isn’t recognizing an international court’s ruling that certain areas within the South China Sea are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
While it won in its legal battle, the Philippines isn’t ready to go to war with China to defend its right over the maritime territories.
So why force the issue?
This was the argument raised by President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday, April 27, amid growing calls for him to include the Philippines’ 2016 legal victory against China before the UN Arbitral Tribunal in this year’s talks among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
“You cannot (include it in the talks) unless we are prepared to go to war. Gano’n lang ‘yan eh [That’s how it is],” Duterte told reporters on the sidelines of a joint press conference with Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, among the first leaders who arrived in Manila for the 50th Asean summit.
According to the chief executive, China and the Philippines are “contending owners” of territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). He said China’s claim is based on history while that of the Philippines is based on the international law of the sea.
“Sabi niya, historically sa grandfather ng grandfather ko... Atin, it’s the entitlement by the…UNCLOS [China says historically, it’s owned by the grandfather of my grandfather. In our case, it’s the entitlement by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.]
And he said the Philippines could not just force China to acknowledge our right under UNCLOS because we would just be inviting trouble that we’re not ready to face.
“Before nagsabi na ang China, ‘We will not honor.’ So bakit mo pilitin ‘yan na, ‘O, ‘tang in*, you honor’? Hanap ka lang ng gulo.”
“Ngayon, preparado ba tayo manggulo? ‘Yan ang problema. Can we go to war?”
The President said he would only be ready to go to war if Filipinos would also be ready for it and would take the lead.
“Ako payag ako, mag-giyera tayo? O sige. Pero dapat kayo ang mauna diyan…Sakay tayo lahat. Bigyan ko kayo baril [Am I in favor of going to war? Okay. But you must be first…we will all hop in. I will give you guns.]
Asked if at the very least, he agreed that the international law was on the Philippines’ side and that what China was doing was against the same, Duterte said, “Insofar as this generation is concerned, wala ‘yong arbitral ruling noon [there was no arbitral ruling before]. So we are justified now.”
He added that the “simple education for all” on the maritime issues concerning China and the Philippines is that, “Might is right and right is might.”
Might is right means that those who are powerful can do what they wish unchallenged even if what they wish to do is unjustified.
Meanwhile, the phrase right is might was mentioned by former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in 2016 after the Philippines won its case against China before the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration, implying that the rule of law and not one’s strength or force is the source of power.