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PH needs West Philippine Sea policy that no president can change—expert

/ 12:04 PM November 04, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines needs to craft a long-term policy in the West Philippine Sea that would remain in place no matter who is president, a maritime law expert said.

Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said a sitting administration, who would not heed the policy could hand over the West Philippine Sea to China, which is aggressively claiming nearly the entire South China Sea as its backyard.

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“As far as China is concerned, it doesn’t matter who is president or what political party there is, they will continue with their plan,” Batongbacal told a forum hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

“We should be like that, too. We also have our own long-term plan and stick to it regardless of who is there in the chair. Any president who doesn’t stick to that plan is essentially going to hand over to China these areas,” he added, speaking partly in Filipino.

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Batongbacal said the Philippines can potentially lose control of the West Philippine Sea if the next administration will continue President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of non-confrontation which his critics said was actually just capitulation.

“My view is that the country’s sovereignty and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea will not survive another six years of what we’ve seen in the past five of this administration,” he said.

In the last five years, Duterte has downplayed China’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea following his foreign policy pivot and tight embrace of China in exchange supposedly for massive investments and loans.

Duterte has also set aside the ruling by an international tribunal that invalidated China’s preposterous nine-dash line claims in the South China Sea.

“With those five years, we saw how quickly China increased its pressure into the West Philippine Sea and is now very hard to dislodge at this point,” Batongbacal said.

“That’s why if that kind of policy is taken up again by the next administration, you can bet they will go even deeper. We will eventually lose control of the area and that cannot happen,” he added.

Critical elections

Senatorial aspirant Antonio Trillanes IV, a former Navy officer, said the 2022 presidential elections will be very critical because the country’s foreign policy direction, including sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, would depend on it.

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“Each candidate has his or her own foreign policy biases. In fact, some of them have already declared their positions in relation to the West Philippine Sea and the arbitral tribunal ruling,” he said at the same forum.

He warned that Duterte’s West Philippine Sea policy will continue if presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. wins in the 2022 elections.

“It is common knowledge within the political circles that Bongbong Marcos is aligned with China,” Trillanes said.

Marcos recently expressed support for Duterte’s West Philippine Sea policy, saying that “although it is criticized, it is the right way to go.” The son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was also recently a guest of the Chinese embassy.

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TAGS: Foreign Policy, long-term, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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