TUESDAY this week will not be an ordinary Tuesday. It will not be like the Tuesday when you had your firstborn. Or a Tuesday when you learned that you’ve been hired. Those kinds of Tuesdays are precious and personal. Tomorrow is not a Tuesday that is personal to anyone, yet is the kind that would alter the shape of Philippine history and of our collective future, as citizens of this country.
July 12 is the day when the United Nations Arbitral Court would render its decision on the Philippines’ case against China. A favorable ruling would give the international community a rational, moral, and legal basis to refute China’s claims over the West Philippine Sea. This is not just a battle over historical facts. The economic dimension to this case is huge. After all, the contested waters are part of the vast expanse of shipping lanes that connect East Asia with Europe and the Middle East. Over 4.5 trillion euros in trade rely on the freedom of navigation to and from various ports along these overlapping territories.
It should be a matter of national pride that the Philippines had decided to lodge a case against China, one of the world’s economic powers, before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), in The Hague, Netherlands. A favorable ruling would smash China’s nine-dash-line claim and underscore its irrelevance under international law. The complaint was filed in Jan. 2013 under the leadership of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, with the full support of then-President Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd.
The world awaits this epic decision. China has lined up allies from around the world, mainly benefactors of its generous aid packages, in support of its stand. China will strongly reject a favorable decision on Tuesday. We already know what it will do. On the other hand, we are not without our own set of allies. The Philippines has the support of the United States, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan. The European Union has advised China to respect the UN decision.
What is clear is that the world has long lost its appetite for a full-blown war, triggered by deadly territorial disputes, especially one that would involve not just two, but several other claimant-countries. The decision to be handed down by the UN Arbitral Court is the voice of reason. The thunder of military might, or even just the swagger of it, can easily drown out that voice.
But the world has a conscience, and the UN Arbitral Court, because of UNCLOS, serves as that conscience in maritime affairs. And this is why tomorrow’s Tuesday will not be any ordinary Tuesday. Tomorrow, the conscience of the world will speak at our behest. We, who initiated this case, must be prepared with our own reactions, and our own actions. We must speak with one voice—from our ambassadors to our legislators, to be led by our new President.
Once the Arbitral Court renders its decision, the ante is raised on the political communications front. The Presidential Communications Office, now headed by the highly capable Secretary Martin Andanar, has its job cut out for it. The case, the ruling and its implications must be immediately explained in layman’s terms, so that every Filipino realizes the significance of the court’s decision on our sovereign rights.
All our embassies and consulates must be fully equipped with a unified message and the full backing of our communities across the globe in appearing before the world media to explain our country’s position and to seek global support for the UN decision.
The tone must be calibrated, the substance sharp yet magnanimous and forward-looking. We look forward to having a lonely but hefty sword in the scabbard, to be drawn when pummeled by a bully with missiles in theirs. The Department of Foreign Affairs led by its Secretary must take diplomacy to its highest plane. Visibility is key, nuancing an art, and every word to be uttered will be etched in the vast archives of international affairs. Flippancy is out of the question.
What if the decision is too courteous and bland and, therefore, pointless? Worse, what if the UN Court rules in China’s favor? There is no excuse for sounding unprepared however that decision is worded. These are serious times and we are a serious nation. Being flippant is out of the question.
Tomorrow is not an ordinary Tuesday. Not by a long shot.