Think-tank group Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) said on Saturday, July 17, that the maritime dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea should be “an issue” that will help shape the outcome of the May 2022 elections.
Dr. Renato De Castro, a professor in international studies at the De La Salle University and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Stratbase ADRi, said during a webinar that the WPS issue should be “very close to the stomach” because it’s about food security.
“The starting point there is very close to the stomach: fish. The starting point there is food security,” he said during a webinar entitled “Mapping the 2022 Political Landscape: Who’s Ahead? Do Foreign Policy Issues Matter?”
Victor “Dindo” Manhit, president of the policy think-tank, stressed the need to use the right language when alternative candidates talk about the maritime issues.
“When you talk about nawawala, inaagaw, ninanakawan ng isda at nahihirapan ang mangingisda (missing, taking away, stealing the fish and the fishermen are having a difficult time)… that’s the language we need to use and there is following already,” he said.
Manhit added that the public is aware of the disputes, so the issue with China can’t be talked about from the foreign policy perspective only.
“I think this would be an issue. If this is not an issue, we (Stratbase ADRi) will make this an issue in the 2022 elections,” he said.
The group noted there has been a growth in the public’s perception and understanding of the maritime issues with China.
Manhit said they have seen it since 2016, “and we will continue to make it understood by the general public no matter how simple we need it to make going to the 2022 elections.”
Shortly after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague handed down the Philippines’ victory on July 12, 2016, invalidating the basis of China’s expansive claims in the region, the Stratbase ADRi hosted a forum on the issue.
Stratbase ADRi is named after former Foreign Affairs chief Albert del Rosario, who along with the late former President Benigno Aquino III, led the filing of the arbitration case against China’s historic nine-dash-line claim in the resource-rich waters of the West Philippine Sea.
The decision was handed down shortly after President Duterte came to power, but the Chief Executive put aside the decision and chose to be friendly toward China.
This has been a point of contention between the President and those fighting for the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the region. They have called on Duterte to use the arbitral win to pressure China into retreating from the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“It is a matter of engaging ordinary Filipinos, especially when it is an issue of the election next year. Do you want a President who is really bent on sacrificing the gains we have when we won the arbitral ruling for the sake of Chinese money that never entered the economy?” De Castro asked.
Aside from food security and maritime rights, he said that there are other issues with the overlapping claims in the region. Among these are energy resources and border security.