THE situation in the West Philippine Sea today has gone from bad to worse after China occupied some islets that the Philippines claimed to own, and America and Japan had posted military assets in Philippine territory to counter China’s moves.
We could have avoided this dangerous situation had we agreed to a bilateral negotiation as China had proposed, but we went to court instead. Our false bravado (hambog) irked China who, like a spurned lover, simply took advantage of our frailty.
So what can we do now? Relax and enjoy it, as somebody in government said some years ago?
I believe the problem is all about free access to the sea/air trade corridor that passes near Spratly islands through the China Sea, the northern tip of Luzon to the Pacific Ocean countries. China wants to control it (occupy/ADIZ), while America and Japan want to have it free and open to international maritime trade. It is said that the value of the goods that pass that trade channel amounts to US$5 trillion annually, which will accrue to China alone if the trade channel were closed to non-Chinese traffic.
So, why not have an alternative maritime trade route?
I propose that the Philippines open its San Bernardino Strait, which lies between the southern tip of Sorsogon and the northern tip of Samar Island, as the new gateway for maritime trade from western countries to countries in the Pacific Ocean.
It may be recalled that during the Pacific war, naval vessels of America and Japan passed through San Bernardino Strait. In fact a big battleship of Japan was recently found under the sea near St. Bernardino Strait.
It is a natural channel where big ships can pass thru any time without delay, unlike the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal which were man-made at great cost of human lives and money and which took many years to build and where traffic volume is limited.
With international maritime trade estimated to grow to US$30 trillion by 2030 (this projection is based on the results of an expert survey according to the “Delphi methodology”), the Philippines can earn tremendously by allowing the use of Saint Bernardino Strait as the new gateway for maritime international trade from western countries to countries in the Pacific ocean.
Then, whatever may be the decision on the case filed by the Philippines with the International Court of Justice, the Philippines must change tact in dealing with China.
Just like the other Asean countries, we must accept the fact that being a small country, we must live with, not fight, a big bully over something we cannot defend.
We should let the United Nations deal with China to protect our rights under the UNCLOS.
Thus, with the Philippines’ San Bernardino Strait as the new gateway for international maritime trade, there will no longer be a need for America and Japan to cavil with China over access to the old maritime gateway; they should pull their military assets from the Philippines.
Then tensions with our Filipino-Chinese brothers will be avoided, it will promote more international maritime trade, and from increased revenues, the Philippines can finally solve our poverty problem and raise the quality of life of all Filipinos now and in the future. Hopefully.—Amado F. Cabaero, firstname.lastname@example.org, retiree