The Philippines is reportedly exploring another round of quadrilateral joint patrols with the USA, Australia and Japan in the coming months.
The US Pentagon will also have expanded access to Philippine bases, including facilities near Taiwan, while Japan is negotiating its own Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Manila.
Moreover, the Philippines is exploring new rounds of legal warfare (lawfare) against China.
Marcos Jr’s top legal advisers are now considering filing a new international arbitration case against China over the latter’s alleged environmental crimes in the Manila-occupied Iroquois Reef in the Spratly Islands.
According to former Philippine Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has advised several Filipino presidents over the South China Sea disputes, the Marcos Jr administration could bid to build on the country’s earlier arbitration case.
Back in 2016, an arbitrary tribunal at The Hague formed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), not only ruled out China’s sweeping ‘nine-dash line’ claims covering much of the South China Sea.
But also censured the Asian superpower for harassment of Filipino vessels as well as widespread environmental destruction in the area through gigantic reclamation projects.
Philippine authorities are under no illusions. They know that China will continue to dismiss any international arbitration case, at least publicly, as it did with the 2016 ruling.
Nevertheless, many in Manila believe that something drastic has to be done to restrain China’s behavior and that an additional arbitration case could at least cajole Beijing to the negotiation table.
One major area of concern, for instance, is preventing China from disrupting any efforts by the Philippines to reinforce its fragile position in the Second Thomas Shoal, where a marine detachment is precariously stationed over the dilapidated BRP Sierra Madre ship.
Moreover, the Marcos Jr administration is intent on pressing ahead with energy exploration activities in the Reed Bank, which falls within China’s nine-dash line.
By leveraging the threat of a new arbitration case, one that would likely be supported by its allies, the Philippines hopes to gain some bargaining power in the South China Sea.
Crucially, it could also allow President Marcos Jr, whose approval ratings suffered a double-digit decline amid rising food costs, to burnish his credential at home, especially amid deepening anti-Beijing sentiments in the Philippinex
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2023.