PH-China ties: A time for ev­ery­thing

Tempo - - Editorial -

IN the book of Ec­cle­si­astes in the Old Tes­ta­ment of the Bible, it is writ­ten: “There is a time for ev­ery­thing, and a sea­son for ev­ery ac­tiv­ity un­der the heav­ens – a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to up­root, a time to kill and a time to heal… ” It goes on to speak of var­i­ous other times when it is best to do cer­tain things – “a time to em­brace and a time to re­frain from em­brac­ing… a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

At the start of Pres­i­dent Duterte’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, he spoke of what he in­tended to do about China. The Philip­pines had just won its case in the Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion in The Hague filed by the pre­vi­ous Aquino ad­min­is­tra­tion. The in­ter­na­tional court re­jected China’s nine-dash­line claim to most of the South China Sea as hav­ing no ba­sis in in­ter­na­tional law. It up­held the Philip­pines’ right to ex­plore for min­eral and other re­sources within its 200-mile Ex­clu­sive Eco­nomic Zone (EEZ). Its fish­er­men have the right to fish in tra­di­tional fish­ing grounds like Scar­bor­ough Shoal. The court af­firmed free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in the sea, which the United States con­tin­u­ally claims for its ships and planes.

China has never rec­og­nized the Per­ma­nent Court’s rul­ing, as it is con­trary to its claim of sovereignty over nearly 80 per­cent of the South China Sea. The court it­self has no au­thor­ity to en­force its rul­ings. Nei­ther can the Philip­pines do it. That le­gal de­ci­sion by the court stands but it can be car­ried out only if the par­ties con­cerned agree to do so.

When Pres­i­dent Duterte as­sumed of­fice, he de­clared a pol­icy of de­vel­op­ing close re­la­tions with China as well as with Rus­sia. We have won our case in the Ar­bi­tral Court, he said, but it is more im­por­tant now to build on the friendly ties be­tween the two coun­tries. He said he told China Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping that the Philip­pines stands by the rul­ing. But The Chi­nese leader was just as firm in re­ject­ing it, Duterte said.

War is out of the ques­tion, Pres­i­dent Duterte said. There may be a time later when the Philip­pines will as­sert its claims as sus­tained by the Ar­bi­tral Court, “but not now.” In re­cent weeks, Supreme Court Justice An­to­nio Car­pio, who was part of the Philip­pine le­gal team that won the case in the Ar­bi­tral Court in 2016, has called on Pres­i­dent Duterte to take ac­tion on the case. “The Pres­i­dent can­not sim­ply do noth­ing or, worse, ac­qui­esce to China’s ac­tion, for in­ac­tion is the op­po­site of pro­tect­ing the Philip­pine EEZ,” he said. He called on the gov­ern­ment to file a com­plaint with the UN on China’s re­ported state­ment that if the Philip­pines forces its way into its claimed is­lands, there would be war.

It is this talk of war that brings to mind those words in Ec­cle­si­astes. We have Justice Car­pio call­ing on the Pres­i­dent to as­sert Philip­pine claims in the South China Sea more force­fully. On the other hand, we have Pres­i­dent Duterte say­ing, “Not now.” It’s not the right time.

This is a mat­ter that truly de­serves the na­tion’s fullest at­ten­tion and as­sess­ment so that we will know what to say and what to do when the time to de­cide fi­nally comes.

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