Aggressive is an understatement to describe how persistent China is in its pursuit over disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea. These includes islands and land masses which the Philippines also claims to be within its own territory. In this battle for sovereignty, does a small Asian country like the Philippines stand a slim chance against a gargantuan state like China?
This paper aims to look into the remedies that the Philippines may take, and, finally, my two cents on what the most realistic move our country can make in this situation to preserve its sovereignty. But first, allow me to discuss the facts of this dispute in order for us to get a clearer view of the problem.
B. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
The Spratly Islands is a constellation of small islands and coral reefs, existing just above or below water, that comprise the peaks of undersea mountains rising from the deep ocean floor. Long known principally as a hazard to navigation and identified on nautical charts as the “dangerous ground”, the Spratly Islands are the site of longstanding territorial disputes among some of the littoral States of the South China Sea.
China is the biggest country claiming the islands under what they call the “nine-dashed line.” The geographical extent of the claimed area has variously been represented by 9, 10, and 11-dashed lines indicating the area China considers it has sovereignty over. The lines, somehow, reflects what China foresees as their own version of history. Basically, the claims are really rooted in its understanding that the territorial features of the South China Sea constitute territory over which China has historically held sovereign jurisdiction – that is, “ancestral properties” passed down from previous generations. In their position papers, China expresses that “Chinese activities in the South China Sea date back over 2000 years ago” with China being “the first country to discover, name, explore and exploit the resources of the South China Sea islands and the first to continuously exercise sovereign powers over them.” 
Nevertheless, China has not precisely articulated – in terms familiar to sea lawyers or diplomats – what its nine-dash line means. That ambiguity leaves plenty of room for possible over-interpretation, particularly when coupled with some of the actions that China has taken in response to perceived incursions within the area bounded by that line.
One of the earliest treaties used by a nation to assert a claim over the Spratlys is the Convention Respecting the Delimitation of the Frontier Between China and Tonkin (Vietnam), signed by China and France in 1887. The actual dispute over ownership of the Spratlys began 46 years after the signing of the treaty, when France announced it had occupied a number of islands in the South China Sea, including a number of the Spratlys. China was quick to react to the occupation and lodged diplomatic protests in both 1933 and 1934. These protests were based on China’s claim to “historic ties” to the islands and on the provisions of the 1887 treaty.’ However, the Chinese government carried the dispute no further, as it was at this time becoming embroiled in a much larger and catastrophic dispute with Japan, the Asian beginnings of what would become the Second World War. An increasingly assertive Imperial Japan recognized and sought to utilize the strategic value of the Nansha Islands (Spratlys) in particular. Japan occupied parts of the archipelago in an attempt to control Southeast Asia and prepare for an invasion of Australia. Upon Japan’s defeat in 1945, it was stripped of the area it had occupied in the South China Sea.
On December 1947 when Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang Government adopted the nine-dashed lines claim, which they embodied in the “Location Map of the South Sea Islands” two months later. It showed a map with 11 dashes forming a U-shaped line covering almost the entire South China Sea.
The Philippines entered the picture at roughly the same time as this. Tomas Cloma, a Filipino lawyer, “discovered” the said island group. During the periods of 1947 and 1950, fishing boats belonging to Tomas Cloma & Associates visited the said group of islands with the original intention of putting up an ice plant and cannery and to explore the guano deposits in the islands inhabited by birds.
In 1956, after another expedition on board PMI-IV, Atty. Cloma addressed a letter to then Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Carlos P. Garcia, informing him that about 20 Filipino citizens were undertaking survey and occupation work in the South China Sea outside of Philippine waters and not within the jurisdiction of any country, and that the territory being occupied was being claimed by him and his associates as citizens of the Philippines, based on the rights of discovery and/or occupation, “open, public and adverse as against the whole world.” He named the claimed area “Free Territory of Freedomland.”
By 1957, the Philippine government, through a letter from Vice President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Carlos P. Garcia addressed to Atty. Tomas Cloma expressed a “willingness of the Philippine Government to extend diplomatic protection to the fullest extent to Tomas Cloma” on the matter of Freedomland.”
But it took almost two decades before Cloma ceded, in favor of the Republic of the Philippines, whatever rights his government had over Freedomland. Then, through P.D. 1596 (11 June 1978), President Marcos created the Kalayaan Island Group as a municipality of the Province of Palawan. But, Beijing already assumed that the status of the islands was seemingly acknowledged as Chinese territory through U.S. requests to the Taiwanese authorities for permission to perform aerial surveys in the region between 1957 and 1961.
II. The Start of the Issue
The dispute arose in 2013, when China released a new map adding a 10th dash on the eastern side of Taiwan. In this new map, China calls the 10-dashed lines as its “national boundaries,” indicating that all the islands and waters within the lines are its territory. In 2014, China’s Hainan Province began enforcing regulations interpreting the “adjacent” and “relevant” waters as those enclosed by the 10-dashed lines.
This move meant that the Philippines would lose about 80% of its EEZ facing the West Philippine Sea, including part of the Malampaya gas field. This prompted our government to initiate arbitration proceedings against China.
III. Post-arbitration Situation
While the pronouncement is said to have been favorable to the Philippines, China continues its advances. Just recently, news outlet CNBC reported that China has installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on three fortified outposts in the Spratly Islands. This deployment follows the installation in April of jamming equipment that disrupts military communications and radar systems – also on outposts in the Spratlys.
Today, six Asian nations, including the Philippines, assert claims of sovereignty over all or parts of the Spratlys. Based on these assertions, journalists are using new and more ominous phrases to describe the Spratlys: “the eye of a political typhoon” and “a potential Falklands.” With so much at stake, the claimants to the Spratlys have pursued the sovereignty issue in various ways. All except Brunei have taken steps to physically occupy numbers of islands.
Aside from this, China is currently building structures in Scarborough or Panatag Shoal. Scarborough Shoal is a small ring of reefs that lies about 230 kilometres (140 miles) from the Philippines and 650 kilometres from the nearest major Chinese land mass, the southern island province of Hainan. China has built islands and airstrips on reefs and islets in the Spratlys archipelago, a strategic location in the southern part of the sea.
This leads us to another question: What should be our next course of action?
C. THE ARBITRAL AWARD: OUR LAW, OUR LEVERAGE
Before tackling the enforcement of the award, we must first know the mound that the Philippines is standing on and how much ground it covers.
The arbitral award is strong evidence that may be utilized in our transactions. But, contrary to the belief of many, the Philippines did not get an express award of ownership over the Spratly Islands, mainly because of two reasons:
a. First, to acquire jurisdiction, the arbitral tribunal had to avoid giving an award of such tenor so that the rights of other claiming countries like Vietnam and Malaysia would not be prejudiced; and
b. Second, the language of our position paper shows that Philippines asked for the declaration of the nine-dashed lines as invalid.
And we did get just that. The arbitral tribunal ruled that maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect. They exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS). They further declared that the Convention superseded any historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, in excess of the limits imposed therein.
Most of our submissions were also given due course and credence by the tribunal. The tribunal ruled that no maritime feature claimed by China within 200 nautical miles of Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal constitutes a fully entitled island for the purposes of Article 121 of the Convention and therefore, no maritime feature claimed by China within 200 nautical miles of Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal has the capacity to generate an entitlement to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
They also ruled that the Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are low-tide elevations which does not generate entitlement to maritime zones of their own, hence, there are no overlapping entitlements to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf in the areas of Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal. There was also a declaration that Chinese fishermen violated the sovereign rights of Filipinos to fish in the EEZ. Apart from that, they found these fishermen violating a few conventions due to the capturing of endangered species.
The arbitral tribunal went to the extent of declaring that China has breached its obligations pursuant to Articles 279, 296, and 300 of the Convention, as well as pursuant to general international law, to from any measure capable of exercising a prejudicial effect in regard to the execution of the decisions to be given and in general, not to allow any step of any kind to be taken which might aggravate or extend the dispute during such time as dispute resolution proceedings were ongoing.
Everything has been said and done, and while it may be true that the Philippines won the arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the victory was pyrrhic. China lost something, but we did not gain anything. As long as the dredging, land reclamation and installation of alleged military settlements by China in these islands continue exponentially, we have not won the case.
So how can we make the best out of the arbitral tribunal award? Here are my recommendations.
D. REMEDIES THAT THE PHILIPPINES MAY TAKE TO ENFORCE THE AWARD
I. Request Other Claimants to Recognize the Award
I believe that, before spending our resources by appearing before the Internationcal Court of Justice for any violation committed by China, we must adopt a diplomatic position by encouraging talks. This implies talking with nearby countries asserting claims over the subject matter. We cannot believe in Atty. Harry Roque’s remarks that the arbitral award is “self-executory” and that the Philippines does not need to do anything to enforce it.  Actions must be taken to ensure that the award is given full effect. We can achieve this by asking neighboring countries to recognize the award.
We will solicit cooperation from the national governments of claimants like Vietnam and Malaysia, among others, to uphold the decision of the arbitral tribunal through external acts and entering into treaties with the Philippines. They can perform severance of diplomatic ties with China, retortion, and reprisal. , international law is a law of cooperation.
It sounds absurd at first, but this becomes an afterthought considering that the award does not prejudice the rights of indispensable state-parties. All it said was that China cannot extend its territory and exclusive-economic-zone on the basis of a void concept called the nine-dashed line.
Asking these countries to enforce the decision may work some magic not only for the Philippines but also for these countries, as they may use the said decision should they decide to go toe-to-toe with China before the ICJ.
However, this remedy is not my personal favorite. Tensions may escalate between China and these countries. War may not be apparent. But when it happens, we will be at a disadvantage against China’s military might, being the second placer in terms of military spending, even posing a serious challenge to the forces of the United States of America.
Also, during a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Countries (ASEAN), where the Philippines and China participated, movements to raise the ruling of the arbitral tribunal in Philippines vs China in the communiqué was blocked out by Cambodia. This only shows the political disarray and lack of unity in the Southeast Asian Region to support the arbitral award. This leads me to my next suggestion.
II. Further the Bilateral Talks with China on Joint Exploration
Of all the teachings that the great General Sun Tzu imparted, the art of the sheathed sword that struck me the most. He said, “the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. With his forces intact he disputes the mastery of the empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph is complete.” This is the thrust of this next humble suggestion.
We must continue our talks of joint exploration in the Spratly Islands with China, as suggested by our President Rodrigo R. Duterte. During Duterte’s visit to Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, President Duterte brought up the territorial issue to President Xi which led to an agreement between both parties to have a “safe passage for all” in the South China Sea. 
Just this year, officials from both countries announced that they will carry out several joint initiatives in the disputed waters. This will include oil and gas research. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano even told the media that China was willing to enter into joint explorations with the Philippines, but is focusing more on the research to know what resources may be exploited therein. Despite concerns on its constitutionality, such move is constitutional based on two things. First, economic rights within the Exclusive Economic Zones are divisible. This means, we can give licenses and enter into joint ventures with other countries.
The second concept would the doctrine of sovereignty as an auto-limitation. Sovereignty, according to Jellinek, “is the property of a state-force due to which it has the exclusive capacity of legal self-determination and self-restriction.” This implies that sovereignty may be practiced by a state in such a way that the state exercises little to no sovereignty over a certain territory.
By allowing the bilateral talks and joint ventures to prosper, we are actually beating the Chinese, using their resources and technology in exploiting the Spratly Islands. In this sense, we assert and exercise sovereignty over the Spratly Islands without rubbing this fact in Beijing’s face. Sun Tzu quoted, “to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment, or a company entire than to destroy them.” Besides, as established earlier, the Chinese Army is far too big and strong compared to our armed forces. Applying the the Neoliberalist theory of International Relations, states are geared towards gains and profit, thus, relations are often dependent on whether the same would be profitable or not.  Another theory, the democratic peace theory, suggests that democratic states are generally hesitant to go to war. These theories echo the tune that China will avoid going into war, especially if it sees that it gains something out of the bilateral talks.
III. Ask the Assistance of the United Nations
We can seek the United Nations’ help to enforce the award where none of both the peaceful and legally hostile methods are effective to give effect thereto. It may decide on its own authority to take a hand in the settlement.
Generally, the task is principally addressed by the Security Council, but may be taken over by the General Assembly under certain conditions.
The Security Council has jurisdiction to intervene in all disputes affecting international peace and security, including disputes which, although coming under the domestic jurisdiction clause, have been submitted to it by the parties to the settlement. Such disputes may be brought to it by the Security Council itself, the General Assembly, the Secretary General, any member of the UN, or any party to the dispute, such as the Philippines.
The Security Council will then recommend the appropriate measures, considering any amicable measures already adopted by the parties, or that the dispute be referred to the ICJ. If these prove to be unsuccessful, the Security Council may recommend such terms of settlement it deems appropriate.
If the terms of settlement are rejected, then the Security Council may take either preventive or enforcement action. Preventive actions are measures not involving the use of armed forces, such as complete or partial interruption of economic relations, and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio or other means of communications, and severance of diplomatic relations.
Enforcement actions are action by air, sea, or land forces necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security, including demonstrations, blockades, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of the UN Members.
A caveat, however, is that China is one of the permanent members of the Security Council, which means that they may stand in the way of the body taking cognizance of our cause. 
In a scenario where the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity, fails to exercise its primary responsibility to maintain peace and security, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately, with a view to making recommendations to the members for collective measures, including the use of the states’ armed forces when necessary.
IV. Lobby a Case Before the International Court of Justice
When all else fail, the best action we can take diplomatically is to file a case before the ICJ. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946.
The ICJ may acquire jurisdiction over the dispute, especially if we frame it to be a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS), Convention on Biological diversity (CBD), and Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).
This may place us in a good position to negotiate.In line with the neoliberalists’ theory in international relations, if there is a way to settle the dispute peacefully, China would most likely take it. In this scenario, we can file a case before the ICJ but at the same time corner China to consider settlement with the Philippines.
Before the ICJ, we can pray for the halting of the dredging and reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea, as well as enforcement of the award by virtue of the UNCLOS and CBD.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty, is the international agreement that defined the limits of the territorial seas of nations and the areas in which they could exploit marine resources.
It also established the rules for the use of the high seas for international navigation, and outlined the rights and responsibilities of nations in the protection of the marine environment, as well as pave the way for the so-called Exclusive Economic Zones.
Apart from asking the ICJ to honor the award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, we can also ask that the ICJ do something about possible activities of China in Scarborough or Panatag Shoal. “The Chinese have built the bunkers, the shelters, the radar and signalling systems, intelligence facilities so it’s a matter of when they would decide to send in fighter aircraft, not if. It will be beyond naive to think they’re not going to do it. They did not build all of this so they can leave it empty,” Gregory Poling, Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, said in an interview with the ABSCBN News Center’s Early Edition.
But we must take note that Scarborough shoal was considered rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own and accordingly shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. Apart from that, the shoal, which the Philippines pertain to as Panatag Shoal, is within its EEZ. And with the arbitral award voiding the nine-dashed line, China should not be building there. But it is. This is clear breach of obligation to respect the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Meanwhile, we can also ask the ICJ to sanction China based on the Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an agreement between countries based on natural and biological resources. The CBD has three main goals: to protect biodiversity; to use biodiversity without destroying it; and, to share any benefits from genetic diversity equally.
According to experts James Borton and Nguyen Chu Hoi, Beijing’s land reclamation poses a catastrophic impact on the environment particularly the marine biodiversity and fishery in the South China Sea.
Borton and Hoi emphasized that China’s activities are endangering fish stocks and threatening some of the world’s most spectacular sea life over the long-term. They also noted that the Chinese government is rapidly destroying thousands of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and other shallow-water ecosystems.
Additionally, the authors pointed out that China’s aggressive action and “undefined ownership of the region and its fish stocks” resulted to “destructive overfishing.” Its actions are also degrading the marine ecosystem and threatening endangered species including sea turtles, sharks, and giant clams. They noted that the fishery reserves in the South China Sea declined by 16% since 2010.
If this is true, this is clear violation of the CBD. And this would be on top of the violation that Chinese fishermen have already committed.
All these factors and conventions may be useful to the Philippines in the long run before the International Court of Justice.
Of all the reliefs that were mentioned here, I opine that the best course of action to take is still to further our talks with China. The repercussions of all the other reliefs that we may take are disastrous.
First, it will affect the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The ASEAN is becoming an inter-regional institution filled with integrity because of the amount of respect, effort, and trust that the member-states have exerted over the past few years. Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, despite criticism over why he did not insist on including the discussion on the arbitral award in the recent communiqué, believes it was better than to compromise the ASEAN. If we request these states to practice hostile methods in coercing China to recognize the award and stop its activities in the West Philippine Sea, it may result in the disintegration of the ASEAN. Another issue would be China’s grip hold on trade relations with ASEAN countries. In 2015 alone, China established its reputation as the region’s top trade partner. Any retortion or reprisal may work against the state exercising the same against China.
The same logic may also apply in a situation where we raise the issue before the United Nations or the ICJ. It can be remembered that Nicaragua won a case against UN Security Council permanent member United States of America. The ruling is as old as our current constitution, and yet no reparations have been shelved out by the US in favor of Nicaragua.
I am for a policy where we improve ties with China. I believe this would garner a result where China would voluntarily cede the pieces of territory we are claiming eventually. A sign of good things to come when we improve our diplomatic ties with Beijing is the recent reassurance that Beijing would spare the Panatag Shoal from their operations.
From what we have learned from studying the law, these states are similar to individuals. They have different personalities and different interests. And I choose to believe that China, despite being viewed as a beast bullying its way in the Southeast Asian Region, has an innate goodness. That it is only doing what it is doing in line with its interest, in the same manner that we fight for our sovereignty. Both China and the Philippines are doing what they are doing for the benefit of their respective constituents. We must realize that.
Furthermore, I believe in our diplomats’ skills and competence in handling this situation. I know they are best equipped with the knowledge and capability in developing a strong tie with China and at the same time achieving the happy ending the Philippines wants to have on the disputed islands.
In my opinion, the greatest weapon that the Philippines possesses, which may be used in order to wear China down, is not the arbitral tribunal award we got from the PCA. For me, the Philippines’ true leverage is, as what Secretary Cayetano aptly quoted in our own language, our heart.
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