Duterte and Arbitration Jitters
Recent international interest on the Philippines has spiked in the run up to the change in government as President Benigno Aquino III stepped down to give way to the new government of Rodrigo Duterte, as well as in anticipation of the announcement of a ruling by the arbitral panel hearing Philippine complaints against China’s actions in the South China Sea.
APPFI president Aileen Baviera contributed to the discussions through a number of short commentaries solicited by various publishers.
In a commentary posted by the East Asia Forum titled “Should Duterte step back on the South China Sea?”, she lamented how some countries had become wary of China’s aspiration to become a maritime power because the means pursued by the Xi Jinping government appeared to ignore the legitimate interests of its smaller neighbours, flout existing international norms and pose risks to regional peace and stability.
Answering the question she poses in the title, she argues:
“If China were to proceed with unilateral assertions of sovereignty — which could lead to militarisation of the sea, challenges to the rights of the Philippines and other coastal states within their claimed exclusive economic zone as well as splits within ASEAN — this could cause regional instability and discredit the idea of international law. But if Beijing steps back from displays of force and shows that it is committed to international legal principles after all, then the post-Aquino government — and governments across the region — will have incentives to cooperate.
The next Philippine government must carefully craft a policy with both of these scenarios in mind. This means that the Philippines must be ready to work with China— preferably alongside ASEAN, the United States, and middle powers — to positively reinforce good behaviour. At the same time, it must continue to strengthen its capacity to wage principled pushback against any coercive diplomatic strategies from China. To do either one effectively, Manila must engage China directly — and despite the misgivings of many in the Philippines, bilaterally.”
In the New York Times, where she was asked to contribute to a special section “Room for Debate”, the question was asked: “How should the United States deal with President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, given questions about his human rights record and foreign policy?” Addressing the latter issue, she predicted that Filipino-American relations will remain strong under Duterte, essentially on three conditions: that the United States continues to respect Filipinos’ national pride, that US support in the promotion of the Philippines’ maritime interests does not heighten the risk of armed conflicts, and the third is whether China increases pressure on the Philippines in view of the arbitration outcome or decides to shift its course.
Ninotchka Rosca, Patricio N. Abinales and Ian Bremmer also contributed their viewpoints on the questions raised.
Also sharing her analyses with television audiences in the Philippines and the region, Dr. Baviera guested on the live news and public affairs program “Mornings@ANC” with Gigi Grande and on the Singapore-based Channel News Asia’s “Between the Lines”.
She was also invited by Bloomberg TV Philippines as commentator, together with Prof Jay Batongbacal, for special coverage of the Hague ruling, as news of the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision on the Philippine case trickled in on July 12. The decision was touted to be overhwelmingly in favor of the Philippines, even though traditional fishing rights of fishers from China, Taiwan and Vietnam in the waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal, were also accorded recognition,
Another media event followed the following day, July 13, called the “Roundtable sa Lido” which was organized by journalist Melo Acuna for fellow media professionals. Aside from Prof Baviera, the guests included APPFI fellows and UP professors Chito Sta. Romana and Jay Batongbacal. Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani and Mr Richard Heydarian of De La Salle University also spoke at the roundtable.