President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent comments ceding control of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to China and that the international arbitration court award was nothing more than “a scrap of paper” did not sit well with countless Filipinos.
None more so than his fellow alumni at the San Beda College of Law, as well as retired generals from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and from the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Duterte earned his law degree from San Beda in 1972.
In a “fraternal statement of concern,” 129 alumni from San Beda asked the President to take a clear stand against China’s persistent encroachment in the WPS, while also asking him to retract his statement denigrating the country’s 2016 legal victory over China.
The San Beda alumni said Duterte should “categorically, demonstrably, and publicly” uphold the Constitution, including his duty to defend the Philippines’ maritime resources.
In their statement, the group highlighted what they called the President’s “defeatist” attitude.
Another group of San Beda graduates, however, took the cudgels for the President, saying Filipinos should unite behind Duterte.
Led by Executive Sec. Salvador Medialdea, members of the San Beda College of Law Alumni Association said, “We have to submit to the judgment of our president, who is not only our highest elected official but also the chief architect of our country’s foreign policy.”
In their “manifesto of support,” the pro-Duterte group said, “We call on every peace-loving Filipino to unite behind President Duterte and respect his position that makes him ‘the sole organ and authority in foreign relations.’”
Meanwhile, a group of retired AFP generals who call themselves Advocates for National Interest (ANI) issued a statement last week calling on Filipinos to rally to the flag and assert the country’s rights in the WPS.
Among the more notable members of the group are retired Gen. Renato de Villa, who once ran for president; former ambassador Ramon Farolan; former senator Rodolfo Biazon; and former Social Security System administrator Renato Valencia, among others.
Their statement said that as the Philippines prepares to celebrate Independence Day next month, Filipinos should remember that more than a century ago, the people “stood up to challenge a much stronger power in order to be freed from subjugation and bullying.”
They added, “We face a real threat to our nation’s security. China’s transgression of Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights in the WPS, in violation of international law, jeopardizes our future.”
The retired AFP and PNP officers also said the vast resources of the WPS “present a promise of deliverance for our people. China is taking that away from us.”
They reminded the President that the country’s maritime entitlements in the WPS “are by virtue of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary international law.”
The 2016 South China Sea Arbitration Ruling “was a victory for the Philippines,” their statement said, adding that the court rejected China’s overreaching claims including those within the Philippines exclusive economic zone.
“But China refuses to abide by the ruling.”
ANI also said that the people should be made aware that “an information war is going on that uses psychological, propaganda and media tools to make us believe that (China’s) unlawful actions in the WPS are justified.”
In reply to Duterte’s stand that the Philippines would not win in a war with China, the retired officers said, “War is not the only option left in order to defend our sovereignty and sovereign rights.”
“We are not alone,” their statement said, “There is a range of diplomatic, legal, informational tools or soft power that can be deftly used. We have allies, partners and friends willing to share the burden to keep a secure, stable and free-flowing trade through the South China Sea.”