Asserting the Philippines’ legal and sovereign rights to West Philippine Sea (WPS) against China is simply a matter of political will of the current administration, according to maritime expert and lawyer Fretti Ganchoon.
Ganchoon, who is the Senior State Council at the Department of Justice, explained that holding China accountable for illegally building structures in the WPS involves mainly filing diplomatic protests and following it up.
Using legal approaches, such as presenting evidence of China’s clear violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by building artificial islands, is seen as the only way to take action against China because of the Philippines’ lack of military assets, she added.
“It’s just a matter of priority of this administration to file a case against China because of course they [national government] have to balance many things. Depende sa leadership kung gusto nilang mag-file, but we have that right,” she said in webinar hosted by the Area Task Force West on Friday.
“Yes, we have a strong case against China. Nasa higher moral authority tayo. Mayroon tayong right to evict China [from the artificial islands], but we need the right assets. Kulang pa tayo sa assets, we need to build these. Because we are an archipelagic and maritime nation, we need to invest in more vessels,” she added.
Ganchoon explained that in the 2016 arbitral ruling, it was declared that all waters and features 200 nautical miles of Palawan are part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). However, China has built several artificial islands on features, such as rocks and shallow waters, which they claim belong to China. While building artificial islands are violations under Philippine laws and the UNCLOS, Ganchoon explained that the matter is also a territorial issue, which can be resolved if the Philippines takes China to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Evicting China from these islands is also a delicate issue because retaliation from China may be too costly, Ganchoon said.
“One consideration, if we evict them, it might escalate the tension. And that is exactly what we don’t want to happen in the WPS,” she said.