The recent declaration by the President that he will “ignore” the arbitral ruling upholding the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea to pave the way for a joint oil and gas exploration agreement with China is profoundly disappointing and extremely irresponsible.
The President’s own Secretary of Foreign Affairs has stated that there is no need to set aside the 2016 ruling in order for joint development between China and the Philippines to move forward. Entering into any agreement should not come at the expense of upholding our rights to the West Philippine Sea. Our own Constitution already grants the State ample authority to enter into agreements with foreign entities for exploration and development of oil and gas resources, provided that these shall lead to “real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country.” Why, then, was this reckless pronouncement made?
In attempting to justify this move, the President has once more tried to argue that in the matter of the West Philippine Sea, the only two choices available to us are capitulation or conflict. Again, as a number of respected authorities have done so before, I must point out that THIS IS NOT TRUE. Open warfare is far from the sole means of asserting our rights to our EEZ, as our neighboring nations Vietnam and Indonesia have recently and repeatedly proven.
The strongest anchor to our claim must be consistency—in our official positions, in our negotiations, and in the statements of our top officials. A firm, consistent assertion of our legal rights does not require a single shot being fired, yet why do the President and his administration constantly fail at doing it? Why are the President and his administration the very ones who undermine our decisive victory before the Arbitral Tribunal in 2016 with remarks such as this?
Ultimately, how the President handles the delicate issue of the West Philippine Sea will have implications, not only for the remainder of his term, but for all subsequent administrations. It will affect the lives not just of our generation of Filipinos, but that of our children, and our children’s children. We must take great care in ensuring that we are not trading away the long-term interests of our nation and our children for short-term profit.
Guaranteeing a better future for our children is perhaps one of the most important, and most difficult, responsibilities of any administration. Selling that future for a gas deal with China is a shameful way of abandoning that responsibility.