Clockwise from top left: Attorney Julius A. Yano (maritime lawyer and Managing Associate, Del Rosario & Del Rosario Law Offices), Mr. Edcel John A. Ibarra (moderator, Foreign Service Institute), Professor Jaime B. Naval (faculty member, University of the Philippines, Diliman), and Associate Professor Rej C. Torrecampo (faculty member and Director, Philippine Center of Excellence in Defense, Development, and Security, National Defense College of the Philippines).

In commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the South China Sea Arbitration Award, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) organized a Mabini Dialogue to explore the possible courses of action the Marcos, Jr. administration could take to promote and honor the Award. The event, titled “6th Anniversary of the South China Sea Arbitration Award: Policy Directions for the New Administration,” was held on 12 July 2022 via Zoom and featured maritime security and governance experts. 

The experts argued that the new administration would continue specific approaches undertaken by the Duterte administration as regards the South China Sea disputes and its relations with China, although exact details were not elaborated. They are hopeful that a clearer picture of the policy direction of the new administration will be evident by the next anniversary.

Professor Jaime B. Naval of the Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines underscored the need for “strategic storytelling.” He believes the Philippines must recount its story more deliberately, coherently, and forcefully to counter narratives that undermine the Award and international law. A whole-of-nation approach is necessary to build a coherent Philippine narrative on the South China Sea disputes. The new administration should also explore a wide range of options in its engagement with China based on a careful study of the pros and cons and the country’s real intentions and values. Prof. Naval also argued that the Philippines should adopt a more level-headed policy instead of a defeatist position.

According to Attorney Julius A. Yano, an international law maritime specialist and former consultant to the Secretary of National Defense, the Award concluded that China’s claims to historic rights and other claims in its “nine-dash line” are contrary to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China’s construction of artificial islands, installations, and structures at Mischief Reef violated Philippine sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Atty Yano highlighted the need to have an appreciation of the Philippines’ maritime interests and a precise understanding of the country’s entitlements in the South China Sea to effectively protect maritime rights.

Associate Professor Rej C. Torrecampo of the National Defense College of the Philippines stressed that the Philippines should not shy away from wanting an effective military, thus the need to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The Philippines has the potential to influence China’s gray-zone tactic through diplomacy, build its maritime law enforcement capabilities, and improve naval and air capabilities. The Award can be utilized for strategic scanning and planning that may serve as a lens for the Philippines in interpreting the evolving external security environment.

During the open forum, the speakers discussed President Duterte’s hedging strategy, the tangible benefits garnered from the Award and how to maximize it, and the purpose of strategic storytelling in the South China Sea disputes amid disunity along political lines. The speakers emphasized that inclusivity in policy-making and understanding the Award concretely are ways to move forward in protecting and promoting it.

Participants in the Mabini Dialogue came from the DFA home office, Foreign Service Posts, other government offices, and the academe.