Message at the Book Launching of Marites D. Vitug’s
“Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China”
Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City
Thank you, kindly take your seats.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio; Justice Marvic Leonen; Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez; Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales; our former DFA Secretary, Ambassador Albert del Rosario; Dr. Maria Luz Vilches, Ateneo VP for Loyola Schools; Dr. Mendoza, OIC of the School of Social Sciences; Gen. Joe Almonte; my fellow workers in government; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.
We seem to be seeing a lot of each other lately—[laughter]—as we bring to fore discussions on our country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, as well as the case that won for our country not just a piece of God’s earth that brings unimaginable resources for our nation, but also a sense of national self-esteem, as Marites Vitug wrote in her book being launched today.
We are very pleased that at this time of great turmoil, we all find reason to gather, cross-pollinate ideas, and listen to one another. The encroachment of a rising global superpower on a country such as ours is no small threat to our people’s way of life. We must stand together if we are to respond to this threat successfully and definitively.
It is difficult to explain how such a landmark victory for our nation, as well as for the rule of law, can be casually dismissed by our own government. It is no exaggeration to say that leaders and experts from different corners of the world waited with bated breath for the international ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration a little more than two years ago. That ruling not just answered a small nation’s pleas for protection from a rising global superpower’s aggression, but also illustrated how the world can prevent another global conflict peacefully. And yet, we set it aside, and let our own people—especially our fishermen, whose livelihood and survival are tied to our seas—get threatened regularly within our very territory.
But the time has come to go beyond our frustrations, and think of a clear plan of action that our nation must consider, to protect the West Philippine Sea from those who would take it from our people. And this is where Marites Vitug’s book, Rock Solid: How The Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China, comes in. In finding a way forward, it must be clear to us what happened in the past, the factors that matter, the main actors that made it possible, and what must be done, now that we have won the case of a lifetime.
The sheer volume of research in this book’s more than 300 pages, which contains interviews with a long list of resource persons—ranging from the longest-staying resident of Pag-asa Island to experts in The Hague, from military officers to Congressmen, from Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio to former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario—indicates that it is a treasure trove of varying perspectives on our struggles in the West Philippine Sea. Such an account, based on many different points of view, is necessary for us to understand how to “sail” forward from here on.
Marites even set foot on Pag-asa Island herself, and we are all interested in listening to the stories she gathered. The details, perspectives and information about people described in this book were so deftly interwoven that it read like a novel. Thank you, Marites, for yet another piece of work that can greatly help in policymaking and nation-building. I hope you will never tire of using the power of your words to sharpen the nation’s understanding of issues that affect our way of life.
In the matter of the West Philippine Sea, we need to be as inclusive as possible in considering the points of view of different actors and players. There is no monopoly when it comes to wisdom and insight, and certainly, when it comes to love for country.
We must listen to the voice of the ordinary people who are affected most by the conflict in the West Philippine Sea. If our fishermen’s anguish, caught on live nationwide television, is not good enough, then the recent Pulse Asia Survey should provide clear guidance on what our people need. Based on the survey, which ran from June 15 to June 21—just last month—73% of Filipinos believe that the government should assert our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.
We must listen to those who have worked on this case for years and won the ruling for our country. I understand that even Acting Chief Justice Carpio, who wrote a confidential memo entitled “Proposed Philippine Strategy in the Spratlys Dispute” and gave this to Secretary del Rosario as early as 2011, had his own sounding board composed of legal academics like Jay Batongbacal, an expert who worked for the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, and an expert on China, among others, as said in the book “Rock Solid”.
We must listen to the Armed Forces, which has secured these islands, reefs, and atolls for decades. They have the skills, knowledge, commitment, dedication, and deep understanding of the issue, that is needed for us to protect what is ours. We must also, of course, listen to career diplomats at the Department of Foreign Affairs, who are highly competent and knowledgeable, as well as the diplomatic community, and our neighboring countries.
The world’s path to inclusive economic progress lies in open trade, in open communication lines, and in peace—not war. Conflict in any battlefield, in any corner of the Earth, whether in cyberspace or on waters, hurts not just opposing nations, but the whole world. There is much at stake and this is why keeping peace is for the good of all nations.
This is our dream: that the rule of law and a rules-based system will prevail over international seas, proving to the nations of the world that in this age of turmoil and unrest, the human family deserves to be at peace. We believe that the Philippines does not have to go to war; the arbitral tribunal ruling has already set the workings of peace in motion. We just have to find a way to bring our neighbors together to assert the arbitral tribunal ruling, and to widen the circle of advocates for rule of law, to organizations and nations outside of Asia.
It is our dream that the Philippines will once more demonstrate the diplomatic leadership in Asia and beyond that we have always shown as a nation. That our government will finally fight for our people’s rights and our sovereignty. That the lives and livelihood of the fishermen who depend on Scarborough Shoal’s fishing grounds will finally be protected, as well as the massive resources for our future that lie in and around Reed Bank, Mischief Reef, and other areas in the Spratly Islands. And, finally, that you and I, our children and their children, can sleep at night soundly, knowing that tomorrow, everything that we labor for will be ours, and our people will live in a country secure from external threats.
That is our dream. And this is what we deserve. May we always work side by side, despite our differences at times, for the good of our country.
Thank you very much for having me today. Congratulations, Marites, for yet another milestone!