Because our forefathers fought off powerful invaders, we who are beneficiaries of their sacrifices and victories ought to do no less. We must exhaust all possible means, without resorting to war, to conserve and develop our patrimony.
This is the gist of an open letter of the Citizens Alliance for Life and the Law of the Sea (CALL) calling on all of us to “summon the patriotic and nationalist spirit that is imbued in us, and confront this formidable challenge to our sovereignty and sovereign rights” in the face of persistent Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Here’s part of the open letter of the Alliance for Life and the Law of the Sea which is comprised of multi-sectoral organizations that banded together to uphold our country’s interests in the WPS:
We call on our fellow Filipinos and national leaders to speak with one clear, consistent, and emphatic voice on the enforcement of the historic Arbitral Award, promulgated in the South China Sea Arbitration and decided by the UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).
The Arbitral Award (AWARD) recognized the sovereign rights of the Philippines to exclusively explore and develop the natural resources in the EEZ and continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). It declared baseless the 9-dash line claim of the People’s Republic of China (PROC) that it owns practically the entire South China Sea, including over 3/4 of the WPS, and determined that PROC violated the UNCLOS and the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the WPS by building several large artificial islands with huge infrastructure like airport and seaports, massive fishing, bullying of Filipino fishermen, destruction of the environment, and conducting maritime surveys, among others.
Larger than the entire land area of the Philippines, WPS includes part of the South China Sea which extends 200 nautical miles from the entire western shoreline of the Philippine Archipelago. WPS is rich in fish, oil, gas and other mineral and aquatic resources worth several trillions of dollars when explored and developed — patrimony that can benefit present and future generations of Filipinos who alone are entitled to it.
To date, however, almost five years from the Award’s date, PROC, an UNCLOS signatory like the Philippines, obstinately refuses to recognize and follow the AWARD. PROC continues to disrespect our national dignity, insult our officials who protest against its violations in the WPS, and haul away millions of tons of fish from our EEZ that should have been the rightful catch of our fishermen and much needed meals at the tables of impoverished Filipino families. PROC continues to destroy marine and aquatic resources, and puts national and international peace and security in peril as it threatens to build more artificial islands with military installations equipped with high-powered weapons including missiles, aimed at controlling the entire South China Sea.
UNCLOS, unfortunately, has no enforcement mechanism. Bilateral talks with PROC to enforce the Award have proven ineffective. We must exhaust all other possible means to enforce the AWARD without resorting to war, lest it becomes a mere document recognized in international law.
SOLIDIFY UNITY FOR THE AWARD
Thankfully, we Filipinos and our leaders headed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte are united in appreciation of the historic significance of the AWARD and the need to enforce it, contrary to misimpression linked to confusing and seemingly inconsistent statements from the Office of the President itself, which tend to cast doubt on the AWARD’s paramount importance to the Philippines. We must solidify this unity, emphasizing what unites us and refraining from issues that divide us.
Filipinos have overwhelmingly expressed their strong desire to enforce the award and to resolutely oppose continuing PROC violations in the WPS, based on surveys by leading research agencies from 2017 to 2020. In September last year, in a stunning speech delivered on the occasion of the 75th UN General Assembly, President Duterte clearly and unequivocally declared the official Philippine position on the award. He told the family of nations:
“The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award. “
“The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it.”
“We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for– the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This – as it should – is the majesty of the law.”
PROPOSED WHOLE-OF-COUNTRY STRATEGY TO ENFORCE THE AWARD
Moving forward in unity, we must now agree on a strategy to enforce the AWARD quickly and effectively. Towards this end, we humbly propose the following unified, multi-pronged, and whole-of-country strategy, subject to further enhancement:
A. EDUCATION AND CIVIL SOCIETY
1. Civil society organizations (CS0s) to educate their members on the significance of the EEZ, continental shelf, UNCLOS, and the AWARD through webinars, symposia, and town hall meetings organized at the regional, provincial, city, town, and barangay levels, in cooperation with local government units.
2. CSOs to form alliances with their international counterparts to enlist support for the enforcement of the AWARD and the promotion of UNCLOS, leading to the creation of a Global Alliance for Life and the Law of the Seas.
3. Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to include the West Philippine Sea, EEZs, UNCLOS and the AWARD as part of mandatory study of the Philippine Constitution in high school and college, to ensure that Filipinos are more aware of Philippine territory and national patrimony.
4. Institutions, like Media, Church, and Business, to promote awareness and knowledge about UNCLOS and the AWARD in their spheres of influence.
5. With necessary legislation from Congress, appropriate departments of government to assert our sovereign rights over the EEZ by pro-actively inviting joint-venture partners to exploit and develop oil, gas and other resources in the West Philippine Sea, as well as in our Pacific Seaboard, the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise). There must be no monopoly by one country in the exploration and development of our EEZs.
6. Philippine Navy and Coast Guard to show a pro-active assertion of our sovereign rights by protecting Filipino fishermen from being bullied by foreign fishermen or armed militias in the West Philippine Sea.
C. POLITICAL AND DIPLOMATIC
7. Department of Foreign Affairs to continue filing appropriate diplomatic protests every time our sovereign rights are violated, and to initiate actions to rally the world’s governments to respect UNCLOS and enforce the AWARD.
8. Department of Foreign Affairs, in consultation with Congress and experts, to conduct an in-depth study on the propriety of filing a resolution before the UN General Assembly and other international bodies to call for compliance with the AWARD. DFA to initiate moves to speed up finalization of the Code of Safe Conduct for the South China Sea, to include the AWARD.
9. Department of National Defense to join Freedom of Navigation Exercises by the world powers and to organize the same among ASEAN countries with overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
10. Department of National Defense to prepare a contingency plan to prepare and train able -bodied citizens, especially reservists, to help defend the state should the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rights be threatened. DND to ask Congress to enact pending bills aimed at strengthening our national defense system.
OUR ARDENT APPEAL
It is our duty to defend our beloved Philippines. Our forefathers valiantly fought off powerful invaders. We, beneficiaries of their sacrifices and victories, can do no less.
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