As expected, following a video report of Chinese Coast Guard seizing the catch of Filipino fishermen in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, the usual shrill voices rose, calling for immediate filing of diplomatic protests against Beijing.
A justice even contemplated the filing of another case against Beijing for violation of the July 2016 ruling by the international arbitration tribunal recognizing the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and voiding China’s claim over most of the South China Sea.
Such calls were anchored on unfounded allegations that the Duterte administration isn’t doing enough to protect the right of Filipino fishermen to earn an honest living from a territory that is legally ours.
But filing a new case would be an exercise in futility. As one foreign publication puts it, “although Beijing’s claim to roughly 90% of the South China Sea has been declared null and void by competent international authorities, there is no enforcement arm to ensure that China relinquishes its sweeping and legally fatuous claim.”
The reality is that in territorial dispute, occupation reigns supreme. Unfortunately, we lost Scarborough Shoal to China in 2012 due to ill-advised move of the Philippine government to pull out our warship, frigate BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, leaving the Chinese vessels de facto control over the area.
Without sufficient military might, it would be imprudent to even contemplate challenging Beijing’s control over the disputed shoal. The only viable option for the Philippine government to protect our fishermen and reiterate our legal right is diplomacy.
A more recent report indicate that calls for diplomatic action over the incident was unnecessary as the Philippine government filed a protest over a previous similar incident and intends to file another one in another meeting with China, probably in September this year.
In fact, in a recent briefing of lawmakers on the South China Sea issue, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told the solons that there is no dispute on protecting our legal and sovereign rights over the territory.
Divergence comes with the manner of accomplishing this primordial objective. Whereas critics would want to broadcast to the world our protestations, the current administration chose to do it quietly.
Cayetano admitted that while incidents of harassments remain, real gains have been achieved as our fishermen can now fish where they weren’t able to before the thawing of the relations between Manila and Beijing.
What is important is both sides remain open to discussions to remove the irritants in the bilateral relationship and protect as well the livelihood of our fishermen.
That should never be a reason to suspect something smells fishy.