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  • Writer's pictureFoundation for the National Interest PH

UP-IMLOS and FNI holds new Kwentong Mandaragat Forum on SCS lawfare


24 May 2023

The Foundation for National Interest (FNI) and the University of the Philippines – Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (UP-IMLOS), held their Kwentong Mandaragat forum titled “Kwentong Mandaragat: Legal Perspectives on the South China Sea” on the 3rd of May 2023 at 10am PST through a hybrid setup. The event gained participation from various practitioners, academics, and experts from the fields of security, politics, and law.

Resource speakers include Mr. Robert Harris, Assistant Legal Adviser for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the United States State Department and National Security Council; and Dr. Jill Goldenziel, Strategic Advisor to Business and Government, and an Award-Winning Professor at the College of Information and Cyberspace at the National Defense University. The Panel Reactor was Dr. Jay Batongbacal, Director of UP-IMLOS and a member of technical team that proved the Philippines’ extended continental shelf claim in the Benham Rise region.

The Forum aimed to raised awareness among the Filipino audience of the legal issues in the South China Sea and the ongoing phenomenon of “lawfare”. With lawfare, law is weaponized by States that are unable or unwilling to challenge another State militarily to achieve traditional military objectives, such as to degrade an adversary’s will to fight, and to shape the narrative of conflict.

Mr. Robert Harris discussed the unlawful maritime claims of the People’s Republic of China. Part I of his discussion focused on the challenge of Assessing the Scope and Legal Basis of the PRC’s Maritime Claims; and Part II assessed the rearticulated maritime claims of the PRC. He summarized Limits in the Seas (LIS) No. 150, the US State Department’s critique of the PRC’s revised articulation of its maritime claims in the SCS in post-2016, and its State Practice Supplement which demonstrated how the PRC’s unlawful claims over most of the South China Sea undermine international law and the law of the seas. Further, Mr. Harris also underscored how LIS No. 143 refuted the Nine Dash Line claim of the PRC.

Dr. Jill Goldenziel discussed the definition of Lawfare; the different kinds of Lawfare; and strategies to counter the PRC’s Lawfare. Dr. Goldenziel noted that the law is a shared commitment between states, like the Philippines' ties with the United States, partners, and other allies. She also emphasized that countering adversaries’ lawfare needs a whole-of-society approach. One of the lawfare strategies to counter PRC Lawfare is the US INDOPACOM Counter-Lawfare Program. The Program publicizes behavior by adversaries that undermines the rule of law, integrated with partner nations’ legal offices, and coordinates with partners in academia to promote and advance the rule of law. Counter-Lawfare opportunities that mainly focus on maritime domain awareness also exist through the Bantay Dagat Framework. The framework emphasizes the role of the Bantay Dagat volunteers in counter-lawfare through awareness, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Critical issues in the maritime domain that the US and Philippines should take into interest are illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing (IUUF), illegal, unregulated, and unreported mining (IUUM), transnational crimes, and corruption.

Dr. Jay Batongbacal pointed out that LIS No. 150 is an actual act of Lawfare. Dr. Batongbacal said that the discussion of Dr. Goldenziel provides a broader framework of what is really happening in the SCS dispute, particularly in the WPS, which is an area of lawfare. He also noted that while lawfare is a fairly new term, we have been doing initiatives and advocacies that can fall under lawfare. These advocacies/lawfare initiatives can help promote and strengthen the Philippines’ position and in countering other states’ lawfare.

The questions raised during the open forum were focused on the following: (1) China’s geopolitical standoff with the United States in the Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific Regions; and (2) the recent exchange of ideas of US President Joe Biden and President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. regarding the Philippine strategies on the current geopolitical situation.

Adm. Rommel Ong (Ret.) closed the forum by mentioning that the debate inside the Philippines, particularly in connection to the EDCA commitment, involves information warfare. He encouraged the public to exercise discernment of those who propagate narratives.

FNI and UP-IMLOS extend their gratitude to the participants from the government and private sectors; more than two hundred (200) attendees online and around 40 attendees onsite.

Documentation of the event below.





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