By this time the euphoria has died down but the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal (UN) ruling that vindicated the Philippines’ claim to parts of the Spratlys should be followed up with renewed efforts by the national government to mobilize support from the Southeast Asian countries also laying claim to other parts of the disputed territory.
A lot of people were none too pleased, in fact they were aghast and outraged by what Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay did when he issued the country’s response to the UN ruling.
Instead of a celebratory message, Yasay called for sobriety and restraint as the government studies the legal ramifications of the ruling which junks China’s defense of its nine-dash line and its claim over the whole territorial waters and land comprising the Spratlys.
As most everyone knows by now, the call for sobriety and calm among Filipinos, a lot of whom celebrated in the streets following the release of the UN tribunal ruling, is meant to enable China to do some face-saving and issue its response to the decision which it had already chosen to ignore beforehand.
Asians, us included, consider saving face an important part of interpersonal relations with people. Saving face means allowing other people to keep their honor intact in front of friends and loved ones.
Not that the ruling was unexpected since again China already adopted the hard-line stance of owning most of South China Sea. It already built an airport, artificial islands and sent vessels to monitor the area and warn Filipino fishers and others from passing through.
Except that only superpowers like the US which continues to flaunt its armed might in the contested seas can pass through their territory without being bullied and fired at with water cannons by the Chinese.
Despite the public assurances given by the US government, the Philippines had gone at it alone as far as arbitration is concerned and, thankfully, it does not lack for legal luminaries like Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who worked overtime raising public consciousness on the importance of the country’s claim to Scarborough Shoal and the rest of the land and waters that fall within our territory.
Despite being dismissed by most Filipinos, the UN tribunal ruling also vindicated former president Benigno Aquino III’s dogged determination to elevate the dispute to settlement rather than war and to pursue the country’s claim in the United Nations where it stood a chance to receive a fair hearing and resolution.
The Duterte administration will take its time to consider all peaceful options since war is obviously out of the question but it can take a page from Aquino’s playbook and try to build a united front with other claimants in order to pursue resolution with China on their dispute without surrendering the country’s claim to these lands and waters.
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