Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has elevated the issue of the maritime dispute in the South China Sea to one of his administration’s top priorities, reversing the policy of his predecessor.

Last week, Marcos designated the former Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Andres Centino, as presidential adviser on the West Philippine Sea, giving great importance to the country’s territorial claims in the disputed waterway.

Centino, who retired from active military service seven months after he was reinstated, was tasked to monitor on a daily basis the developments in the South China Sea, a flashpoint in the region, and deal with China’s increasingly coercive activities in the strategic waterway.

The situation in the South China Sea was directly linked to Marcos’s centerpiece policy on food security.

Marcos is after all the concurrent head of the agriculture department, where “untouchable” cartels exist and manipulate prices of basic commodities, including rice, pork, poultry, and yes, onions.

Fish and aquatic resources production declined in the last three years, forcing the government to import “galunggong” and inflating prices in the wet markets.

The fish shortage and high prices of fresh and frozen fish and aquatic resources were indirectly related to China’s coercive activities in the South China Sea, which deny local fishermen access to rich fishing grounds in the South China Sea.

“Galunggong” sold in the local market came from China, hauled by Chinese fishermen in the seas belonging to the Philippines.

Marginalized local fishermen using outrigger wooden boats could not simply compete with the huge steel-hulled Chinese fishing fleet.

After a year in office, Marcos’s performance as farm sector manager is a failure. It could eventually affect his approval ratings if food prices continued to rise and scarcity worsened.

At his second State of the Nation Address before a joint session of Congress at the Batasang Pambansa, Marcos spoke about a blue economy, paying attention to sustainable fresh and saltwater fish and aquatic production.

His blue economy program resonated well with fisherfolks but Marcos did not provide details on how his administration planned to improve fisheries production.

The problem of China looms larger in the strategic waterway where about $3 trillion of seaborne goods pass every year.

China had also prevented the Philippines from exploring and exploiting energy resources in the West Philippine Sea.

Marcos was silent about China’s bullying in the West Philippine Sea when he delivered his address at the opening of the second session of the 19th Congress.

His plans for a blue economy were grandiose but he failed to address how to deal with China, which continues to violate the country’s sovereign rights within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

It had actually impacted on food and energy security, two important issues the Marcos government urgently faces.

It is not an easy task to reverse what his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, did by appeasing China and by falling into the Chinese trap.

Beijing does not want to internationalize the South China Sea dispute. Instead, it favored bilateral negotiations with four other Southeast Asian states – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – to resolve the disputes.

China was able to divide and rule the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by pursuing bilateral negotiations instead of a multilateral approach.

The Philippines needed more allies to pressure China to behave as a responsible member of the international community by abiding by the rule of law and recognizing the landmark 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

There is strength in binding together for a common position against China’s excessive claims based on the repudiated nine-dash-line policy.

Marcos has taken the right steps to make a stand on China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

First, he has strengthened alliances with allies and like-minded states to force China to recognize the arbitral ruling.

Second, he has designated an adviser to watch over the developments on a daily basis in the South China Sea.

Third, he has proposed to develop the blue economy to sustain and improve the production of marine and aquatic resources.

But Marcos needs to put flesh and bones to his ideas of a blue economy and designation of an adviser on maritime disputes.

Marcos should not just come up with big slogans and proposals. One year of rebranding to rehabilitate the family’s name and honor is enough.

Marcos should roll up his sleeves and get down to work. He should now show proof that a new Philippines has come.