Cartoon by Roni Santiago

On July 12 last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the West Philippine Sea, also called South China Sea, because it overlapped with the Philippine 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Clearly, the PCA ruling upheld the territorial right of the Philippines to the disputed area. But instead of taking steps toward the enforcement of the ruling, the administration of President Duterte opted to resolve the dispute in an amicable way, a process China has been advocating all along.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano recently elucidated on this point when he reiterated the administration’s commitment to its policy of strengthening the country’s ties with old allies and engaging new partner nations.

Cayetano said, “The Philippines shall remain an enemy to none and a friend to all in its pursuit of economic and political benefits for the country, including the long-term security and stability in the region.”

Earlier, the government reaffirmed its commitment to protect the country’s territorial claims even as it opted to amicably resolve the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

“The Duterte administration believes that the ongoing territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea should further be resolved in a manner consistent with the spirit of good neighborly relations,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement.

DFA said President Duterte’s priority goal of regional peace and stability has led to a healthy environment for dialogue, cooperation and development.

“The bold initiatives of the administration in pursuing an independent foreign policy have become a game changer not only in the geo-political landscape in the region but more importantly in the lives of our people,” it said.

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The DFA cited considerable economic benefits of good neighborly relations with China, saying Filipino fishermen are now back in the disputed Scarborough Shoal pursuing their livelihood. It was recalled that several months ago, Filipinos were prevented by the Chinese Coast Guard from fishing in the area.

The DFA also said, “We have received investment and financial assistance commitments upwards of $30 billion from our partners in the region. These significant developments have likewise allowed our defense resources to address other pressing security concerns of the country.”

Furthermore, the DFA said the neighborly approach has strengthened the Philippine status as ASEAN chair and “regional peacemaker.”

From our standpoint, we see that for now, the Philippines has no viable option other than the friendly approach. A military option is out of the question because, as China has warned, a military confrontation would lead to total annihilation of the Philippine armed forces.

The Philippines has a mutual defense treaty with the United States, but we are not really sure if Uncle Sam would come to her defense.