Posted on July 08, 2021
By Angelle C. Braganza
President Rodrigo Duterte should vacate his post for his failure to uphold the Constitution and his betrayal of the Filipino people, particularly in his administration's handling of the West Philippine Sea issue, a former top diplomat said.
"When President Duterte admitted that he was inutile with respect to the West Philippine Sea, the honorable thing left for him to do was to step down, given his admission that he could not fulfill his sworn mandate as president to protect the West Philippine Sea," former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on June 28 during the fourth town hall meeting organized by the US Filipinos for Good Governance (USFGG) and INCITEGov.
"To be able to restore dignity to our people and our country, Mr. President, please kindly consider either stepping down or providing the desired leader that is acceptable to Filipinos," he added.
Del Rosario outlines recommendations for the Philippine government regarding the West PH Sea issue
China's incursions in South China Sea and the arbitral ruling
Since the mid-20th century, China has consistently implemented a long-term and systematic plan to take over the entire South China Sea and force out other claimant countries, Del Rosario said.
This includes the occupation of the Mischief Reef in 1995, seizure of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and the construction of area naval bases in the Spratlys that contributed to the destruction of significant coral reef systems in the area from the early 1990s to 2013.
The top diplomat recalled that the 2012 Scarborough Shoal incident triggered an intensified and proactive effort from the Aquino administration to assert the Philippines' rightful claim to the West Philippine Sea through international arbitration.
"The 2012 seizure of Scarborough Shoal by China made us realize the dire need to stop China's illegal and creeping invasion of the West Philippine Sea. We knew that the rule of law was on the side of the Philippines. That's why in January 2013, when we initiated arbitration against China, we confidently put our faith in the hands of international institutions which embody the rule of law," Del Rosario explained.
On July 12, 2016, the Philippines won a unanimous award against China when the tribunal in The Hague ruled that China's claims based on its so-called "nine-dash line" and historic rights have no validity under international law.
Shortly after, however, newly-elected Duterte expressed his desire to pursue bilateral talks with China. By December of that same year, the president already declared that he "will set aside the arbitral ruling" and "not impose anything on China."
Del Rosario asserted these actions are tantamount to a betrayal of Filipino trust and failure to uphold a president's constitutional mandate.
"When the president-elect in our country assumes office, he takes a solemn oath to faithfully and conscientiously fulfill his duties as president of the Philippines: preserve and defend the Constitution, execute the laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate himself to the service of the Philippine nation," he said.
"One of the paramount constitutional mandates of the president as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national patrimony. Thus, it is the paramount constitutional duty of the president to protect and assert our nation's rights in the West Philippine Sea," he added.
However, some of Duterte's actions "fit into a disturbing pattern of loyalty to a foreign power," Del Rosario noted. Among these was his profession of love and trust to Xi Jinping; his dismissal of the arbitral ruling in favor of Chinese loans and investments that have barely materialized; his order to limit navy patrols within the 12-nautical mile PH territorial sea; his supposed verbal agreement with the Chinese president allowing Chinese boats to fish in PH waters; and his repeated false assertions that China already possesses the West Philippine Sea.
"Through these acts, many Filipinos believe that President Duterte has been dishonoring and discrediting our nation," Del Rosario remarked.
Del Rosario also commented on Duterte's recent declaration that his promise to ride a jet ski and plant a Philippine flag in the Spratlys island was a "pure campaign joke." He argued that the Filipinos believed in the political, not literal, implications of Duterte's jet ski metaphor.
"Our countrymen believed in the message apparently conveyed by President Duterte through the jet ski metaphor: that he would stand up to China and protect the West Philippine Sea, consistent with the Constitution. This episode contributes to a widening belief among our countrymen that President Duterte betrayed the Constitution he swore to uphold and has consequently betrayed his countrymen who rely on him to protect the West Philippine Sea," Del Rosario said.
The diplomat further problematized Duterte's reliance on China to keep his presidential seat.
"It is certainly disturbing to see our president, who should be looking after his own people, relying on a foreign leader for his security and tenure as president. Moreover, such foreign leader represents an aggressor that is openly and illegally occupying land and waters that belong to the Filipino people. Is it already a truism? While President Duterte holds office, are we effectively owned by China? Or is this one of President Duterte's so-called jokes meant to escape accountability? If we accept as true President Duterte's compromised loyalty to his country, then the actions that defined his administration's policy in the West Philippine Sea makes sense," he pointed out.
What the PH gov't and Filipino people should do
Del Rosario identified several actions that the Philippines must undertake to regain its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.
In terms of its external affairs, the Philippines must consistently assert its claims in all international fora. Moreover, it should also consolidate support from other nations such as the United States, Australia, Japan, and members of the European Union and ASEAN to uphold and enforce the arbitration ruling rendered under UNCLOS.
In addition, China must also be held criminally accountable and should pay for the massive and near-permanent damage it caused to the marine ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea. Citing the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute findings, Del Rosario claimed that China must compensate a total of P264 billion for the damages they incurred since 2014.
He also urged other ASEAN countries to follow suit and make China accountable before the International Criminal Court for the "systematic and wanton environmental destruction" in the South China Sea.
Internally, the Philippines must also entrust and capacitate its naval and armed forces to maintain a minimum credible defense posture.
Part of this measure is to enhance the country's defense agreements and partnerships with other nations, especially with the United States. US officials repeatedly ensured that the South China Sea - and consequently the West Philippine Sea - is covered by the defense obligations under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Philippines.
Lastly, Del Rosario demanded that the Philippine government must listen to the Filipino people's desires to regain control of the West Philippine Sea, as shown in a 2019 survey. He also called for unity among all Filipinos around the world to defend the Philippine patrimony in the West Philippine Sea.
"If there's anything that should unite us Filipinos, it should be in defense of the national patrimony that has sustained us as a country throughout these times. As President Noynoy Aquino said, 'we should stand up to China because it's the right thing to do.'"