Yesterday, in a unanimous decision at The Hague, the Philippines won the arbitration case vs. China over South China Sea. Many rejoiced, thinking that we now finally own the whole Spratly Group of Islands. Or so they thought.
I have been following the conflict between China and the Philippines since 2012. This was after a Chinese vessel bullied the Filipino fishermen who were just doing their routine job within the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Same thing happened to Vietnamese and Indonesian fishermen.
Some key points before we proceed:
The EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) is defined as an area 200nm from the baseline. According to the international law, we can only claim sovereignty 12nm of the territorial waters from the baseline. Beyond 12nm, we only have sovereign rights and limited jurisdiction. Hence, our local laws are only limited to building artificial islands, maritime exploration and research, resource exploitation, and preservation of the marine ecosystem. No more, no less.
I just want to emphasize that the decision made by international court wasn't about awarding the whole South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea, as what the previous Aquino administration calls it) to the Philippines, but rather it is about condemning the atrocious behavior of the Chinese not just to the Philippines but also to neighboring countries who share the same EEZ (Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Indonesia).
South China Sea is without a doubt rich in oil and other marine resources. As what the international law states, countries that surround the EEZ shall not own nor claim it as part of their territory. More so, the surrounding countries may decide whether they'll share the resources or not. These countries therefore should respect the rules and bylaws of the zone. The Tribunal didn't mention about shooing China from the EEZ. They only mentioned that the Chinese cannot meddle or bully the Filipino fishermen and the oil exploration at the Reed Bank led by MVP.
Furthermore, this is where most cargo ships sail to and from China. China is so adamant in this issue because this is for their own economic security. Do Philippines have the right to shoo the Chinese away from our disputed islands? Yes, IF and ONLY IF the Philippines has enough artillery and military assets to protect the vital shipping routes of South China Sea. But in reality, China is more powerful. If there are numerous security issues in South China Sea, there would be an economic chaos. You have to take note that China is one of the biggest economies in the world. If China's import/export slumps down, expect a worldwide economic downfall worse than the Asian Financial Crisis back in the late 90s.
I remember when President Rodrigo Duterte told the media that he is willing to share resources from the disputed territories to China as long as they are willing to compromise by building infrastructures in the Philippines such as railroads, airports, seaports, and other key infrastructures. A lot cried foul. They say that the President is a traitor; that he is selling our country to China. They are wrong. The President knows what he is doing. The President knows the international ruling of EEZs.
In a nutshell, the arbitrary case is not about awarding South China Sea to the Philippines, but rather it is condemning the atrocities of the Chinese vessels who think highly of themselves by bullying small time fishermen of the surrounding countries.
The only thing that we can do right now is to have bilateral talks with China. We can never tell their true intentions unless we talk to them. Sa panahon ngayon, bawal mag-assume. Nakamamatay.