MANILA— While the adoption of a Code of Conduct (COC) on South China Sea is only expected to manage maritime disputes, not resolve it, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Acting Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said it is the “only viable solution” available for ASEAN and China to pursue.

“If you are going to express pessimism even before the start of negotiations, if I may return the question, what kind of alternatives (would you offer)?” he said.

In an interview with reporters before the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Related Summits officially kick off, Bolivar said the hope is for ASEAN and China to formulate a “more binding” document than the 2002 Declaration of Conduct in the area.

“Ang tingin ko diyan, everything is on the table, it's just a matter on how the negotiators of each countries will position themselves to make a document that everyone can get behind pero ang hirap kasi hindi pa nga nagsisimula pessimism ka na agad.”

At the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRi)  ASEAN Leadership Forum in Makati City, Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, said that there's "nothing wrong" with the idea of pursuing the COC but if that's the only move parties will have, his organization will express "disappointment." 

"ASEAN negotiated the non-binding DOC in 2002. It took 15 years to negotiate a one-page outline that just restated the exact same thing we're going to do in the DOC," he said.

"The idea that this is going to lead to a binding way to manage things like fisheries depletion, oil and gas development or coastguard cooperation is a fantasy," Poling added. 

Last Wednesday, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said a strategic build-up of defense capabilities is one alternative if adherence to rule of law is not followed.

Citing "experts’’, Del Rosario said countries of the region should thoughtfully ramp up their defense transfers and invest in select military platforms as a matter of necessity. ‘’Although a cycle of reactive militarization will surely raise the stakes and the tension, this may still be a prudent path,’’ he said.

For his part, Bolivar said if the Philippines would fund for the strengthening of military in the area, it is unthinkable what other countries may do.

“So, if the Philippines puts money in arms, how do you think Indonesia will react, how do you think Malaysia will react, (and) Brunei and Vietnam?” he said.

“Magkakaroon tayo ng environment that will lead to an arms race? Is that what we really want?”, Bolivar added. 

During an ambush interview in the International Media Center at the World Trade Center on Friday, Bolivar called out the experts for "'criticizing what hasn't happened yet''.

'''We are only at the point of announcing the start of the negotiations, the negotiations haven't even started yet. I think it may be a bit unfair for us to criticize the Code of Conduct when it's not there yet. Let's see what happens during the negotiation," he said.

"'If I may return the question back to the critics, back to the analysts, please give us more viable alternatives if you dont think the Code of Conduct will work even though you haven't seen the code of conduct yet," he added. (PNA)