Duterte urged to take back 'China's war narrative' in asserting rights in West Philippine Sea, raise the matter to UN

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) — There are a number of options available, and war is never one of them.

This is how former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, lawmakers and maritime experts see the recent pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte saying that only war or bloodshed can take back the West Philippine Sea from China.

"You know the cost of war and if we go there and really to find out and assert jurisdiction, it will be bloody, it will result violence that we cannot maybe win," Duterte said in his public briefing on Monday.

Del Rosario disputed this and said that there was no need for a war to assert the country's rights in the West Philippine Sea.

"As we have said before, neither war nor bloodshed is an option for the Philippines to assert its rights over the West Philippine Sea," Del Rosairo said in a statement.

The former DFA secretary who defended the Philippines' case in the arbitral court in The Hague in 2016 said that the country was able to put pressure on China recently over its continuous presence in the Julian Felipe Reef.

"In the past few days, we managed to pressure China to disperse its vessels in Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, not through war or bloodshed, but through the courageous assertion of our rights by our officials and soldiers," he said.

Del Rosario also brought Duterte's move in the 75th United Nations General Assembly invoking the arbitral ruling which did not trigger any war from China.

"This should have put to rest the utterly inane notion that invoking the arbitral ruling and standing up for our rights are equivalent to waging war against China," he added.

"Asserting our rights also encourages allies to support us against Beijing's move to control the South China Sea," he said.

"Because we asserted our rights against China in Julian Felipe Reef, our allies in the world like the US and Japan supported our position against the massing of Chinese vessels. Moreover, the US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, Japan, and Australia have already formally supported the arbitral ruling," Del Rosario explained.

The former DFA chief also identified two options that the Philippines can do amid China's continuous incursion. First, the country can raise the arbitral ruling again at the UN General Assembly this September 2021 to gather more support from other countries; and secondly, under a multilateral approach, taking other concrete steps to consolidate support from allies, which includes engaging in joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea to protect the country's waters.

"We respectfully urge the President to reject this Chinese narrative of war, because it is intended to scare countries to submit to China's will of illegally occupying the South China Sea," Del Rosario said.

Giving China the 'upper hand'

University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law Professor Jay Batongbacal also supports the move to bring the matter to the UN.

He said indicating that the country cannot do anything is an act of surrender when in fact the government can still exhaust all available options. The recent statements made by the President are also giving China the upper hand despite the country's win in the arbitral court, he added.

"The whole reason for having the arbitration is to generate options and those options were for purposes of negotiation and diplomacy. The arbitration is a source of leverage because it is supported by the international community," Batongbacal said.

Do not surrender, wave the white flag

Senator Panfilo Ping Lacson on the other hand said that Duterte's stand on China is sending the wrong signal to the armed forces who are at the forefront in defending the West Philippine Sea.

"He is the leader of the country and commander in chief of all armed forces. He can think and speak about anything except surrender. We have an arbitral ruling in favor and it's permanent. There are so many things to talk about except surrender. We cannot wave the white flag," Lacson said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros on the other hand slammed the President's remarks seemingly allowing China to take what belongs to the country.

"Sinusuko na ng Presidente ang soberanya ng Pilipinas. Nakakahiyang marinig na mismong ang Commander-in-Chief ng Pilipinas ang pasimuno ng mistulang pagbigay ng ating teritoryo sa China. Sabi niya dati mag-jejetski siya papuntang West Philippine Sea, hindi naman ginawa. Wala pa rin nga siyang ginagawa, tapos surrender na kaagad?" Hontiveros said in a statement.

[Translation: The President is surrendering Philippine sovereignty. It's embarrassing to hear that the country's commander-in-chief himself seems to be giving up our territory to China. He previously said he will ride a jet ski to the West Philippine Sea, but this did not happen. He has done nothing, and he's already surrendering?]