Enough has been said about the resources of the West Philippine Sea, as well as on the economic and strategic interests the Philippines has — or should have! — in those features and marine zones it claims. I will take all that as given, and on that premise I bemoan the ambiguity of our official position in respect to our claims and the often duplicitous posture of government in this regard.
Our sovereign rights over the marine resources of our Exclusive Economic Zone and our exclusive right to the mineral and sedentary resources of our continental shelf are not — let us be clear — available to the government as bargaining chips for whatever it is is that we hope to gain by cozying up to China. And whether it is giant clams or anything else perhaps of even less value, complacency and nonchalance do us no good. Neither will it do to place the nation before the disjunction of allowing intruders to pick freely from what is ours, or going to war that we will certainly lose in the first few hours. In fact, the regime of international law is meant to prevent any nation from having to face a no-win choice like this! A formally filed protest may not keep rapacious hands from the treasures of our seas, but it will make of record a continuing assertion of our claim and obviate what may, in the future, amount to an argument from acquiescence.
As regards the judgment of the Arbitral Tribunal that, on almost all counts, was favorable to the Philippines, it is not, I submit, within the power of the government, to execute a volte face on the very plaint that triggered the tribunal’s ruling. Assuming a posture of placation toward a snorting bully of a neighbor by dismissing the ruling of the tribunal as something that does not interest us, or something we are not inclined to press, is not an option available to our government. The tribunal really did not “award” anything to us, although technically, arbitral judgments are usually called “awards.” What it did was recognize sovereign and related rights on the basis of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary international law. What it found to be lawfully ours, it did so by virtue of law. The extravagant claims of China, by contrast, such as its audacious nine-dash line bid, it rejected as being contrary to law.
Clearly, it is not for the government — present or future — to disown what is ours by law. In fact, if anything at all, it should proceed with pursuing territorial claims that were not covered by the arbitral judgment through the mechanisms that international law provides. The government is tasked by the Constitution with safeguarding our sovereignty, defending our sovereign rights and preserving our patrimony. It cannot, as a matter of political expediency or diplomatic maneuver, compromise on that which the fundamental law of the land charges it with upholding.
In this respect, while we seem to be habituated now to off-the-cuff remarks that are later on “clarified” by Malacañang’s “Department of Exegesis,” even unilateral pronouncements by the President or his qualified political agents can work against our interests. In the cases related to the testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific, the International Court of Justice ruled that unilateral declarations creating valid expectations on third parties can be legally enforced against the States and governments that made them.