University University Feature

Unraveling the story behind the South China Sea arbitration case

Six years ago, the Philippines sent a formal Notification and State of Claim to the People’s Republic of China concerning disputed areas in the South China Sea. What followed after that bold move was a series of arbitration proceedings, during which the Philippines emerged victorious after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) deemed China’s “Nine-Dash Line” claim meritless.

The steps taken to achieve that landmark decision have now been outlined in The South China Sea Arbitration: Understanding the Awards and Debating with China, authored by University Fellow and renowned international relations scholar Dr. Alfredo Robles, Jr. The book—which had been in the works for two years—is jointly published by the De La Salle University (DLSU) Publishing House and the Sussex Academic Press.

The book launch, which was held at the Verdure in the Henry Sy Sr. Hall last January 22, was attended by several officials who played key roles in the success of the arbitration proceedings. Among those in attendance were former President Benigno Aquino III, former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.



The journey from blog to book

Robles’ first articles about the arbitration proceedings came to life through the blog of his sister-in-law, journalist Raissa Robles. The positive public reception of his work led him to realize that there were readers seeking information, even if it was written in an academic manner. Soon after, China launched a large-scale propaganda attack to debunk the validity of the PCA’s decision in favor of the Philippines.

“There was no Filipino voice to respond to them. Many Filipinos were not aware of the criticisms. If they were aware, they could not refute them, because they did not understand the Awards properly,” explained Robles. He later shared that even government officials did not fully comprehend the significance of the arbitration ruling.

He then set out to begin writing the book, although it was no easy feat. Apart from experiencing a plagiarism incident involving a local journalist, Robles was also the victim of several cyber attacks while he was conducting his research on the topic. He shared that his hard disk even crashed twice after he visited Chinese websites, which a technician confirmed was caused by Chinese viruses.

In spite of the challenges he faced in writing The South China Sea Arbitration, Robles shows no signs of stopping. DLSU Publishing House Director Dr. David Bayot excitedly announced that another one of Robles’ works was recently reviewed and approved for publishing. Entitled Endangered Species and Fragile Ecosystems in the South China Sea, the book is set to be the first product of a joint partnership with Palgrave Macmillan.



PNoy’s say

During the latter half of the program, Aquino, whose administration spearheaded the call to uphold the Philippines’ rights to the disputed area, sat down for a question and answer segment with Robles.

One of the questions directed to him involved the elevation of the Philippine-China relations during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit in the country, in relation to the arbitration ruling on the South China Sea. The agreement for “comprehensive, strategic cooperation” was to address the concern of generating further employment and growth in the nation’s economy for the benefit of Filipinos.

The former President went on to say that every state’s government has the sole core of wanting development for its people. From his perspective, the Philippines should not dwell too much on the conflict at sea in relation to the amendments being made on land. “The issues that affect us in the sea should not be the deal of our relationship. It is not our interest to be in conflict with any country, especially [with a] superpower [like China],” Aquino expounded.

When asked about his hopes for the impact of the book on its readers, Aquino began by saying that the Philippines was engaged in a lopsided fight, but stressed his belief that the country would persevere, saying “It’s not even [like] David and Goliath. It’s like David and multiple Goliaths, but we dared to challenge. We believed that [what is] right will provide us the might.” He concluded his answer by challenging the Filipino people to stand up against those seeking to do wrong against them, in spite of their limitations.


By Isabela Marie Roque

By Maxine Ferrer

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