ON JULY 12, 2016, a 479-page verdict stated that a tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled in favor of the Philippines in its maritime dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea. The PCA concluded that China’s claim of historic rights falling within its so-called nine-dash line had no legal basis. Two years after the victory, the Philippines has yet to completely assert its sovereignty over the territory.
Marites Dañguilan Vitug, Rappler’s editor-at-large, has written a comprehensive account of the case in Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won its Maritime Case Against China. The book includes notes on documents, transcripts of hearings, and the story of the case which led to the historic victory.
“The title is a play of words. The case is mainly about rocks, as you will read in the book. And it’s a strong decision issued by the tribunal. So, I thought, the title should have “rock” in it. In a light bulb moment, “rock solid” came to mind,” Ms. Vitug told BusinessWorld in a text message of choosing the book title
“In this book, I tell the story of this victory that gave the country so much but has not been given the national attention it deserved. The Philippines gained a maritime area larger than the total land area of the country — rich in resources. Yet these gains were disregarded by the government in its rush to embrace China,” Ms. Vitug said at the book’s launch on July 24 at the Rizal Library in Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU).
Ms. Vitug said that the maritime dispute is a landmark case for the following reasons:
• it is the “first to interpret the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) definition of rocks, islands, and low tide elevations,”
• the “first case to be filed by a South China Sea claimant state against China,”
• the “first time the Philippines sued a country,” and
• the “first case to address the scope and applications of the UNCLOS provision on protection and preservation of the environment.”
Government officials expressed the value of the ruling as a way to assert the country’s right to sovereignty.
“With [the] tribunal ruling, we need to respectfully call on the president to finally do what is necessary to defend what we are fully entitled to do under international law,” former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary and Ambassador Albert del Rosario said in his speech at the launch.
“We need to listen not to the Chinese ambassador but to our people, we need to embrace not China but our own country. The president and his men should cast aside their fear of displeasing China and diplomatically move it forward to do what needs to be done. The president and his men will not be alone. In defending what is right, we will be joined by all Filipinos,” Mr. Del Rosario added.
In her speech at the launch, Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo cited data from the Pulse Asia survey in June — “73% of the Filipinos believe that the government should assert their sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.”
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, a force behind the ruling, said that Filipino’s knowledge of and deeper understanding of the enforcement of the ruling is “the only viable way of protecting and preserving our sovereign rights on the West Philippine Sea.”
“I wrote in my preface that I learned that our country lacks strategic brainpower, we tend to think short-term. Also, we have one of the longest coastlines in the world, yet we are not aware of maritime issues or our maritime surroundings. Our policies are mainly land-based, in security, and infrastructure,” Ms. Vitug said in a text message.
“I hope our leaders use the Philippine victory as leverage in dealing with China, [and] that they learn from our recent history.”
Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won its Maritime Case Against China is available at Fully Booked, Popular Bookstore, La Solidaridad, and the Ayala Museum for P545. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman