Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario has called on President Duterte to display a “stronger and more strategic leadership” as commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the face of China’s aggressive stance in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Del Rosario was reacting to an earlier statement made by Duterte who stated that the only option for the Philippines to be able to take back what it lost in the WPS is by going to war which would exact a great cost on the country.
“As we have said before, neither war nor bloodshed is an option for the Philippines to assert its rights over the West Philippine Sea (WPS),” Del Rosario said in a statement Tuesday night.
He noted that in the past few days, the Philippines managed to pressure China to disperse its over 240 vessels in Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun), “not through war or bloodshed, but through the courageous assertion of our rights by our officials and soldiers”.
Because the Philippines asserted its rights against China in Julian Felipe Reef, Del Rosario said allies like the United States and Japan supported the country’s position against the massing of Chinese vessels. Moreover, the US, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia have already formally supported the Arbitral Ruling.
Del Rosario, however, said it remains a challenge for the Philippines to address the presence of the huge number of Chinese ships located in various reefs in the WPS, quoting an April 11, 2021 report from the National Task Force-WPS.
The former top Filipino diplomat, who once served as Philippine ambassador to Washington, D.C., also urged the President to reject the Chinese narrative of war, which he said is “intended to scare countries to submit to China’s will of illegally occupying the South China Sea.”
Instead, Del Rosario encouraged the President to exhaust all other options available such as raising the July 2016 Arbitral Ruling at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) this September 2021 and consolidate support from allies in conducting joint maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea “to protect our waters”.
“The President has already invoked the Arbitral Ruling that we won in The Hague at the 75th UNGA and the 37th ASEAN Summit last year. We do not see a war being waged by China against us. This should have put to rest the utterly inane notion that invoking the Arbitral Ruling and standing up for our rights are equivalent to waging war against China,” the former envoy said.
In 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned President Duterte that there would be war if the Philippines “forces the issue” of the Arbitral Ruling in the West Philippine Sea.
“In the face of continuing aggression by China, we would like to see a stronger and more strategic leadership in our President, as Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, to stand up for what is ours,” said Del Rosario, who was one of the architects of the Philippine petition that awarded the Philippines its victory over China expansive claims in the South China Sea.
Del Rosario currently chairs a political think-tank based in Manila.