The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has installed five 30-foot-long navigational buoys carrying the Philippine flag in four critical islands in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to mark its territory and assert the country’s sovereignty in the disputed waters. The buoys now stand as symbols of coastal state administration in Lawak (Nanshan) Island, Likas (West York) Island, Parola Island (Northeast Cay), and Pag-asa (Thitu) Island.
Recall that in July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands rendered a comprehensive ruling on the Philippines’ case against China. The arbitral tribunal debunked the nine-dash line theory that underpinned Beijing’s claim to “historic rights” in virtually all of the South China Sea.
It also ruled that China had transgressed the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its expanded economic zone by constructing artificial islands and building permanent infrastructure, interfering with petroleum exploration, and supporting the intrusion by Chinese fishermen to the detriment of Filipino fishermen’s economic activities in the same area. The Philippines’ assertion that environmental degradation had been committed was also upheld.
The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte declared that notwithstanding this historic judgment, it would actively cultivate friendly relations with China — an apparent affirmation of the proposition that the West Philippine Sea issue does not constitute the sum total of Philippines-China bilateral relations. Moreover, President Duterte signaled that, as the chief architect of Philippine foreign policy, he was determined to elevate this into a higher plane of amity and cooperation.
As he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in October 2021, President Duterte declared:
“The Philippines is one with ASEAN and other stakeholders in ensuring that the South China Sea remains a sea of peace, security and prosperity. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea provide a clear path towards a just, fair, and win-win solution for all. The Award must be seen for what it is — a benefit across the board to all who subscribe to the majesty of the law. No amount of willful disregard by any country, however big and powerful, can diminish the Arbitral Award’s importance.”
The incoming administration of presumptive President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is expected to continue the current two-track policy: emphasizing the sovereign rights of the Philippines in its exclusive economic zone that is covered by the West Philippine Sea, while maintaining a highly cordial, non-adversarial stance towards China.
Public opinion polling results show that a vast majority of Filipinos are wary of China’s intentions in the Philippines. In response, China has manifested its support to the country through “the building of drug rehabilitation centers, post-conflict reconstruction in Marawi, and bridge projects in Manila” while affirming its desire to assist in “accelerating industrialization and modernization and capacity-building for self-generated development.”
Let the marine buoys installed by the Philippine Coast Guard symbolize the Philippines’ rules-based stance in asserting the country’s sovereignty while maintaining amicable relations with China.