MANILA, Philippines – Exactly a year after Manila won a historic case against Beijing, experts urged the Philippines to rally the world around this victory to make China pay for its defiant behavior in the South China Sea.
"When the ruling came out, we did not ask the international community to support us anymore. We dropped the ball," Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said in a forum on Wednesday, July 12.
It was the first anniversary of the Philippines' legal victory against China in The Hague. The ruling of July 12, 2016, struck down China's expansive claim over the South China Sea, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.
The Duterte administration did not celebrate this anniversary, and instead issued a statement mostly hailing the Philippines' improved ties with China over the past year.
The biggest public event to mark this anniversary on Wednesday was organized by the Stratbase-Albert del Rosario Institute. This is a think tank chaired by former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, under whose watch Manila filed a case against Beijing. (READ: Aquino: The president who brought China to court)
Carpio stressed the need for other countries' support for international rulings. He cited the case won by Nicaragua against the United States in 1986.
Nicaragua had sued the US for funding rebels against a left-wing government.
Nicaragua won the case, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the US to pay Nicaragua $370.2 million. The US initially refused to heed the ruling.
Carpio, however, said Nicaragua rallied the support of other countries for this ICJ ruling, to the point that it "was costing the US tremendously in terms of reputation."
In an earlier interview with Rappler, Carpio said the US eventually "gave Nicaragua half a billion dollars in economic aid." Nicaragua's president, for his part, requested the country's parliament "to repeal the law that required the US to pay the damages."
"Eventually there was compliance, in a way that saved the face of the US," Carpio said.
Make China pay, expert says
As for the Philippines, Carpio said on Wednesday, "we did not even start" the process of seeking international support.
He said, "We just dropped the ball after the ruling came out, so how can you expect the world to support us?"
The Philippines' lawyer in its case against China – Paul Reichler, who was also Nicaragua's lawyer against the US – earlier made similar points about the "heavy price to pay" in terms of reputation "for a state that defies an international court order." (READ: How to enforce Hague ruling? PH lead counsel explains)
Koichi Ai, acting director general of the Japan Institute for International Affairs, also spoke during Wednesday's forum about making China comply with the Hague ruling.
"I think a key is to make sure that the cost of China's not complying with the norm will be high enough so that they will be prevented from any further action in that direction," Ai said during the Stratbase-ADRI forum.
Ai said this is "easier said than done," and that it is not enough for the Philippines and "just a few countries in the region" to strategize on this.
He said that "like-minded countries outside the region" will also need to be involved.
These countries should "create an effective strategy to make sure that whatever further actions China might take, it will cost them enough that they will have to rethink their future strategy," he said.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, also said that the Philippines "cannot do this alone."
Batongbacal said: "We are of course a relatively less powerful country. In order to balance the equation, in order to act as equal, we must also rely on support. Do we have this, at this point, considering what we are doing?"
Former national security adviser Roilo Golez said that before the Hague ruling was issued in 2016, he was counting on the support of other countries to urge China to comply with the ruling.
"But that would have been possible if the Philippines was at the vanguard of mobilizing international support. But that did not happen," Golez said.
Del Rosario pointed out on Wednesday: "Even today, countries hope for us to lead from our position of strength. No other nation can support us more than we do ourselves, and there can be no unity over the right course of action unless we initiate this unity."
Del Rosario said, "I believe that we should reassume our leadership." – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.