Updated 14:15 PM PHT Tue, January 3, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — When it comes to claiming the Philippines' right to the South China Sea, law expert Jay Batongbacal believes now is a good time as any.
This is contrary to President Duterte's statement that he will assert the United Nations arbitral ruling against China "when the minerals are already being siphoned out" of the disputed waters.
Batongbacal, the director of the University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs, is worried about Duterte taking his time before asserting the country's right to the resources in the West Philippine Sea.
At a media forum on Monday, Batongbacal said any assertions the President would make — later than sooner — would become futile: "By that time, it will be too late because if you think of the resources in the sea, these are actually finite."
He said any further incursion into Philippine resources, such as China's now-militarized islands in the Scarborough Shoal, might become irreversible if the government does not at least file a diplomatic protest now.
Batongbacal worries that the Philippines is "losing room for manoeuvrability and eliminating options."
But Chito Sta. Romana, the country's ambassador-designate to China, is not worried. He said the Hague ruling will always give the Philippines a way out, should China continue asserting claims over Scarborough.
"It will be there permanently as part of international maritime law. It will never be too late," Sta. Romana said.
As ties between China and the Philippines warm up under the Duterte's rule, Sta. Romana said the good relations should continue.
He added that Manila will not benefit from a head-on approach to the sea dispute with Beijing — a sentiment shared by Duterte.
"We're separating, de-linking the dispute from the non-contentious issues; compartmentalizing it but not giving up on it," Sta. Romana said.
For geopolitical analyst Richard Heydarian, the power to stop China's expansionism lies not so much on the Philippines, but on it lone military ally, the United States.
Heydarian said the U.S. is "our ultimate insurance policy and they're the only country that can stop China from bringing us to D-Day...[because the Philippines does not have] that deterrence capability."]
CNN Philippines' JC Gotinga contributed to this report.