BY ASHZEL HACHERO and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
FORMER Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario yesterday said President Duterte should now put into action his invocation before the 75th UN General Assembly of the 2016 ruling of the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that invalidated China›s claim over the South China Sea.
It was during Del Rosario›s term as top diplomat that the country sued China before the PCA which rendered its verdict in July 2016, a few days after Duterte assumed the presidency.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea while the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam are claiming only parts of it.
President Duterte has always been friendly with China which has been consistent in saying it does not recognize the ruling.
«The next step is for our President and his administration to put in reality the invocation of the arbitral award. Our government should work earnestly to get the support of more countries so the arbitral award will be raised more emphatically next year, in UNGA 2021,» Del Rosario said.
President Duterte, in a taped messaged played before the assembly early yesterday, said the Philippines would reject all efforts to undermine the PCA’s ruling that junked China’s claims over almost the entire South China Sea.
He said the Philippines affirms its commitment in the South China Sea while ensuring that all its actions would be in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea UNCLOS) and the 2016 arbitral award.
“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” said Duterte who addressed the UN body for the first time since becoming president.
He said the country also welcomed the increasing number of nations that are supporting the arbitral award “and what it stands for — the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition.”
Among the countries that supported the ruling are the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. The three countries recently submitted a joint note verbale to the UN, which questioned the legality of China’s so-called nine-dash line that covers almost the entire South China Sea.
Last July, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected Beijing›s claim, saying it has no legal or historical basis. Pompeo also decried Beijing›s bullying of other countries with similar claims in the South China Sea.
Del Rosario said Duterte should ask more countries to support the ruling.
«All Filipinos should now unite so that the world will help our country enforce the arbitral award against China. Let us not allow this opportunity to be put to waste. We deeply thank you, Mr. President, for defending what is ours,» he added.
Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also lauded Duterte for his statement.
Del Rosario, Carpio, and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales have filed a case before the International Criminal Court against Chinese President Xi Jinping, seeking to punish him over his country›s alleged destructive activities in the South China Sea.
Carpio said it is heartening to hear Duterte make a stand on the issue and welcomed the growing international support for the arbitral award.
«I personally commend the strong stand that President Duterte made before the UN General Assembly that the arbitral award in the South China Sea arbitration is beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,» Carpio said.
But Carpio, who was one of those instrumental in the filing and handling of the arbitration case, said he hopes it will be implemented across all levels of the Duterte administration.
«I fervently hope that this is the policy that the Duterte administration will implement across all levels – -in the protection of our exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, in the negotiations for the Code of Conduct, and in gathering the support of the international community for the enforcement of the arbitral award,» he added.
Some senators praised Duterte while others expressed reservations.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the President must put in action what he said during the UN General Assembly, especially on the West Philippine Sea issue.
“If he was able to convey his thoughts with clarity to the world, all the more he should do the same to his own people at this time when they need hope and direction. The President’s unequivocal stance against China’s illegal reclamation in our seas should to put rest any ambivalence on where he and our government stand on this important issue.
“From where he spoke, with the whole world watching, he was able to plant our flag on a territory that historically and legally is ours,” he added.
Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan welcomed the President’s strong stance in asserting the ruling but said he hopes that the Chief Executive will not change his mind on the mater.
“We hope he will match these strong words with actions to include bringing the matter officially before the UN. We also hope he doesn’t change his mind and does a 180-degree turn moving forward,” he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said hearing Duterte invoke the Philippines’ victory over China is a welcome move.
“‹Alipin› (Slaves) no more! Hearing the President invoke the award before the UN General Assembly while firmly rejecting any attempt to undermine it should now erase doubts on where he stands regarding the West Philippine Sea issue,” Lacson said.
“Filipinos from both sides of the political aisle should feel proud hearing the President express his strong and unequivocal position on the WPS issue. His statement should erase all doubts on where he stands. More importantly, I hope that China heard the President›s message loud and clear,” he added.
Opposition Sen Leila de Lima said it was not the usual Duterte which was heard delivering a speech at the UNGA as what he said were definitely were just “fed” him.
“We all know that this is not the Duterte that we watch in his late night show every Monday. That is why also highly doubt if what he said was his own, or simply what was fed him,” De Lima in a statement from Camp Crame where she has been jailed for illegal drugs charges since February 2017. — With Raymond Africa