More than any country in the region, the Philippines has sought to protect its territorial integrity through “lawfare” (legal warfare), taking China to the court over maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Perturbed by China’s growing assertiveness across disputed waters, evident in its expanded para-military patrols, massive reclamation activities, and regular military drills in the area, the Philippines has also doubled down on its military spending, hoping to modernize its armed forces.
Like never before, the disputes in the South China Sea have become a key topic in the Philippine national discourse. According to a Pew survey, up to 93% of Filipinos are worried about the prospects of war in the South China Sea, with a clear majority (58%) viewing China as a national security threat. The Aquino administration has astutely tapped into growing nationalist sentiments at home, portraying Manila’s struggle against its northern neighbor in biblical ‘David vs. Goliath’ terms.