The Dynamics of the Arbitral Tribunal Decision in the Current West Philippine Sea Issue

Three years ago, the Hague has made a decision that nullifies the Chinese nine-dash-line claim over the South China Sea which includes the West Philippine Sea. While it may be seen as a victorious standpoint on the Philippines' end which means that the Chinese claims are considered null and void, the military militias and the artificial islands are simply getting more and more common in which the de-facto foothold of the People's Republic of China over its claims is simply getting more firm, making it more of a difficulty for a country like the Philippines to retake (a case of skirmish although that does not mean a full war).

View Image Source here.
It is known for everyone that there is this recent incident taking place on the Reed Bank that a Filipino-manned fishing vessel was rammed by a larger Chinese one, damaging in the process while its fishermen onboard being adrift to the sea for hours until the Vietnamese who, also within the Philippine EEZ, arrived to rescue them up.

The issue stirs a lot of politically-related madness where, for this article, isn't worth that discussing at all given that it will simply lose all the relevance in matters which are by nature, emotionally-moved and that may move the biases across without understanding the larger picture of the complexities going on in these murky waters that may be considered a potential flashpoint for a full-scale conflict. However, despite all of the fracas that was made to use against policies per se while having sensible arguments such as citing the constitution (it will be discussed later), it will not dismiss the fact that for all of the years of rhetoric, incursions, and even violent skirmishes that took place in this body of water which is filled with resources and an ideal trade route for global economic flow, the recent incident simply shows that it is only one of the cases that the claimants, especially the more-dominant People's Republic of China show an abrupt case of flexing its power in the manner that it might seem to be gone unchallenged by powers who are utilizing options such as the Freedom of Navigation Patrols, although its message is being sent across, showing defiance against China and the United States getting its trade war in a level unseen in years where the challenge of power in the economic field is being played by both sides.

Now, let this be an educative discussion where factual basis will be provided, and details regarding the complexities of this dispute will be provided unto you, the reader of this article. To start with, let us discuss the difference between the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea.

Freedom of Navigation Patrols are a thing in countries like
The United States of America.
Link to the image source here.
One may ask: Isn't it the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea pertains to the same body of water situated just West of the Philippines or just South of China, where contested features such as the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and the Kalayaan (Spratly) island groups situated?

The answer to this question is indeed partly correct. One now ask: Why is that so? Care to elaborate it more? Well, here is the thing we need to know about the difference between the two names, about an almost-similar body of water which in itself is a contested one between a multitude of countries that surrounds it.

Here comes the elaborated definition of what the West Philippine Sea consists of as defined in the Administrative Order. 29 signed September 5, 2012, under the then-Aquino presidency. It is worth to know that it referenced the Republic Act No. 9522 or the Archipelagic Baselines Law of 2009 as well as the Presidential Decree No. 1599 which defines the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone dated June 11, 1978, which sets it up to 200 Nautical Miles, in a similar manner as the ones stipulated in the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS

It is worth noting that the Sections 1 and 2 provide the coverage of the West Philippine Sea as far as provisions are concerned wherein it only covers the adjacent waters West of the Philippine Archipelago, especially the waters that surround the Kalayaan Island Group and the Panatag Shoal. In other words, it is only limited to these aforementioned features that the West Philippine Sea covers to assert the jurisdiction and Sovereignty as well as the Sovereign Rights that it also comes with. It is not included the Paracel island chains that both Vietnam and China are also competing with within the South China Sea area as well as the Natuna islands in which undisputedly Indonesian, only that it fell within the Chinese Nine-Dash line which prompts them to add more defense on their foothold for the betterment of their sovereignty.

So, it is ideal to put it the next time normal posts are made, distinguishing the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea will be emphasized for the better with the former focused more on the waters of both the Kalayaan Island Group and Panatag Shoal while the latter being the more generalized-terminology in primary discussion purposes.

Hence, it is a worthy thing to say that the West Philippine Sea is part of the greater South China Sea area while the South China Sea isn't covered in full by the West Philippine Sea. Lest to say about this matter, the Vietnamese are also fond of naming this body of water on their own by naming it the "East Sea".

These activists are in The Hague back then to support the Philippine
Stand against China.
Image Source here.
To understand further about the decision made by the Hague in the South China Sea in its entirety which includes the West Philippine Sea itself, it is worthy to pinpoint out the relevant and interesting details on its content that will shed light to its technicalities - stuff that involves the claims laid by the Chinese as well as those of other claimants including the Republic of the Philippines.

The award in its entirety can be accessed on this PDF file here.

First, the proceedings of the arbitral tribunal were attended by the Philippine side whereas the Chinese didn't send their representatives in the Hague to defend their arguments so as far as their claims are concerned. It is considered a victory by default as depicted given that only the Philippine side argues to what the Chinese claims based on their so-called Historical significance, a point that is not provided in the UNCLOS or in its provisions.

Second, the recognition of the reefs or islands in the West Philippine Sea is defined in the ruling itself wherein it was not recognized as islands sustainable enough to be habitable such as the ones situated in Itu Aba island, the outpost stationed by Taiwanese personnel in which it nullifies the Chinese claim further that these "features" as depicted are part of their integral territory as claimed through the years. Since these are considered as only "features" of rocks and reefs dotting the West Philippine Sea, the 12 nautical mile territorial water baseline nor the 200 nautical miles EEZ will not be applied or to be used as a baseline. What remains is the Philippines' claim of Sovereign Rights especially on the features situated within its Exclusive Economic Zone wherein its resources, as per the 1987 Constitution, are to be utilized and enjoyed exclusively by Filipinos.

Now on the background on the Chinese claims - how come China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea in the first place? The answer lies to what the then-predominant Republic of China under Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek published a map on the South China Sea in 1947 before the country was overrun by the Communists who are now ruling the Mainland led by a commissar named Mao Zedong in 1949. From there then, the mainland communists adopted the stand of the Republic of China which still persists until today. No surprises here given that Communist China in the mainland and the Republic of China now seats in the island of Taiwan obtain similarly claims over the South China Sea, albeit the former being more aggressive in taking it up for their own prestige in line to their desire of national integrity, similar to their desires to integrate Macau and Hong Kong for the better as well as the option of invading Taiwan (which is now arming itself up) which means a lot for the CCP echelon especially on their rising influence in the region that will not sit by the United States which still holds dominant power with bases situated in Okinawa, Japan, and Guam.

Third, it nullifies not only the Chinese Nine-dash line which is beyond the 200 nautical miles stated in the UNCLOS, but also not lay to the claim that areas such as the Panatag (Scarborough Shoal) being part of the Philippines. What is stated in the ruling is that the Shoal is considered international in nature wherein this is a fishing ground not only for the Filipino fishermen but also for countries like China, Taiwan, and also Vietnam (the Vietnamese do not have claims over Panatag Shoal). So, while it may be seen as a victory of the Philippines against the claims made by the People's Republic of China which are seen as invalid, such a victory isn't necessarily 100% due to the said reasons. Take note folks, Sovereignty, and Sovereign Rights are different in nature. 

So, this means that it provides the fishermen the freedom to fish for a living especially in that entitlement of 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone wherein it is worthy for the country to enjoy its maritime resources and use that for its economic growth and also for the benefit of its citizenry especially for the fishermen who are considered vital in providing the nation's maritime food security. So, it is unjust for the Chinese to simply implement their rules by warding off Filipino fishermen over traditional fishing grounds which were considered free to fish before the intensification of the situation that still persists up until the present date.

Now, with the situation still in place even at the time of this article's posting, one may even question on how effective the ruling was in enforcing or even putting things into action for the Chinese to leave the area eventually as the ruling voids up the claims they made in the South China Sea through the nine-dash line. Not to mention the measurement of support that the International Community obtains over this issue. 

Chinese Modern Infrastructures can be seen from Pag-Asa island in
the West Philippine Sea. Subi Reef is one of the areas occupied
by the Chinese by transforming it into what is seen as an Artificial
Image Source.
Such a question is something that is striking in nature that one needs to ponder it more given that upon the context of things, the answer may vary on what perspective one may take as well as on the actual situation on the ground. The spectrum of argument may simply not be limited to the area of concern nor to the claimants but also may affect the context of order and status in the region which is as important as any other essential events taking place across the world.

The first argument that can be easily be brought here is the enforcement provisions of the ruling. Apparently, there will be no other nation to enforce such a claim aside from the one who raises it up before the Hague which is the Philippines. The only problem that can be seen in such enforcement is that the country, in its desire to Modernizing its Armed Forces and Coast Guard, still lacks the equipment needed to get it done. 

Apparently, China is continuously improving its defenses over its artificial islands and recently, it employed maritime militias which enables cabbage strategy of choking up an outpost of its resources for its occupiers to leave by having it surrounded by vessels such as the ones operated by the militia, paving the way for their entry. 

The only thing for such a ruling to be enforced is somewhat to buy time (not by Kowtowing), hasten the Modernization process by wrapping up the procurement projects in a shorter time period possible, and to increase the necessary funding required to sustain the Armed Forces minimum credible defense posture. 

While such an idea is a bit of wishful thinking especially on the timeline and the funding, the fact that the Pag-Asa island being rehabilitated with the beach ramp being the first step and the Modernization projects still getting through, there is still a bit of hope of getting it done. It is only that things are going against time as China introduces more armaments in its artificial islands that may put the country into more harm if not resolved appropriately.

The second argument can be seen here is the support of the international community against the actions of the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea. It is shown recently in multiple reports that the United States at a recent date is committed to protect and defend the country against any foreign armed attack such as the ones potentially done by the Chinese shall a flashpoint may take place involving Filipino forces. 

Another is the continuous Freedom of Navigation Patrols made by countries such as France just recently wherein such an activity is a sign that they are with the international law especially now that the tribunal decisions were based from such laws stipulated in which they are to uphold and show to the Chinese that their actions are baseless and is not in accordance to such norms. Take note that both the Republic of the Philippines and the People's Republic of China is a signatory of 1983 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, a thing that means adherence to the provisions formulated in that law. 

While the second argument seems to weigh less than the first one given that the Chinese are still in their artificial islands and outposts after every commitments and Freedom of Navigation Patrols take place, it is worth to understand that there are still countries who are still taking such a move in a manner that the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea is not only a place for fishermen to make a living (with exclusivities in Sovereign Rights) but also providing a place to have a safer passage of goods, especially that the contested water is in itself a trade route that is worth the connection from the countries in the West through the Indian Ocean all the way to the Asia Pacific region. 

Hence, there are still actions being taken to find a way to resolve such a situation in a manner that will not spark a full conflict. 

So, to answer the question "is the ruling nothing more than a piece of paper?" the answer here is it varies. Yes, it does not help shoo the Chinese now that they invested a lot of money and resources to improve defenses and employ maritime militia, a desire that in line with their national interest which is to integrate the contested waters into their national territory given that they recognize it as their own, disregarding the arbitral decision that nullifies their sovereignty over the entire South China Sea. No, in a manner that the International Community is doing something especially in sending a message to China about their actions with the freedom of navigation being a thing.

As long as these ships are around, there will be problems
for the Filipino fishermen to keep up the livelihood.
Image Source.
As of the date of this article's posting, the fact is there that the Chinese are still in their artificially-made islands with current progress made in defending them up, fishermen of countries including the Philippines still risking things up for a living, tensions still being intensified as both sides are in check and Freedom of Navigation Patrols still taking place which keeps on reminding China over its claims.

On this day, July 12, marks the third anniversary of the release of the Arbitral Tribunal ruling which decided against the Chinese claims over its so-called nine-dash line. And from the date of that release up to this date, there is still little progress taking in so as for the Chinese to leave their claims up and adhere to the law. Rather, they keep on insisting the historical claims narrative by taking their actions on a higher level now with maritime militias operating on this highly-contested water which is a potential powder keg for a full conflict. 

The Philippines in this manner obtains the justification under international law to enforce the ruling on its own and to shoo China out of its Exclusive Economic Zone set by UNCLOS with its resources exclusively enjoyable for the Filipino citizens only. However, it still lacks the capability it needs to get the job done, rendering the perception that the ruling is nothing more than a waste given that China believes in the prime principle of might being the right among nations and seems the only type of language that they understand. 

The hopes of the ruling's relevance are still keeping up with the U.S. commitment over protecting the country under Mutual Defense Treaty given that the Philippines obtains troops over the Kalayaan Island Group that will provide that justification needed for deployment as well as the constant Freedom of Navigation Patrols that shows the determination of upholding the ruling up as it adheres to the norms of the International Law.

All that it takes now is to keep on checking the on-going developments being unraveled in the West Philippine Sea and hope for the best on what will it be for the country's economic development, food security, and most of all national security given that the proximities of the Chinese Artificial Islands are a threat to the national safety. To end this article up, let us quote some Latin adage for national defense: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war.

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