AMID praise for President Duterte over his address at the 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), his spokesman yesterday downplayed the President’s assertion of the Philippines’ rights in the South China Sea.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there was nothing new. He said the President has been saying in it the past but some people, particularly his critics, ignored it.
Roque’s reaction also came as former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the next step after Duterte’s assertion is to ensure the implementation of the 2016 ruling of the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration which invalidated China’s claims over almost the entire in the South China Sea.
China, with which Duterte has friendly ties, has been refusing to recognize the ruling.
Roque said: “Number 1 po, I don’t think it was a strong message. It was a restatement of an old, existing policy. Kampanya pa lang po, sinabi ni Presidente, hindi niya isu-surrender ang maski isang inch ng ating teritoryo, so iyan po ay pagiging consistent lamang na wala po tayong ipamimigay na teritoryo (Number 1, I don’t think it was a strong message. The President has said he will not surrender even an inch of our territory. So that is being consistent that he will not give any part of the territory away), he said.
Roque also said Duterte has often said the country would stand and abide by the rule of law and the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and assert the ruling
“It’s a reinstatement of what has been the Philippine policy on China na hindi natin pupuwedeng bale-walain ang panalo natin sa Hague. Paulit-ulit na pong sinasabi iyan ng ating Presidente sa iba’t ibang forum (It’s a reinstatement of what has been the Philippine policy on China that we cannot ignore the win at Hague. The President had repeatedly said that in different forums),” he said.
Roque said the only thing different was that it was the first time that he talked about the UN General Assembly since it was his first time to address the body since becoming president in 2016.
Duterte, in his address, said the court ruling is now part of international law and will not be easily erased. He also said the country would not allow any action to undermine that victory.
Roque said the President was referring to “physical military occupation of islands that the tribunal said is part of our exclusive economic zone.”
He, however, said the arbitral ruling “will never ripen into a valid legal title” nor could the country expect that it would be enforced.
Roque said all countries are expected to recognize and abide by the arbitral ruling but enforcing it would be difficult.
On Del Rosario, Roque said the former official cannot “dictate” on the President.
“Si Sec Del Rosario, he’s a Filipino, he’s entitled to speak pero parang hindi po maganda na dinidiktahan niya ang Presidente. Hindi ko po alam kung anong special qualification niya para diktahan niya ang isang Presidente (Secretary Del Rosario, he’s a Filipino, he’s entitled to speak but it does not look good if he dictates on the President. I do not know what special qualification he has to dictate on a sitting President),” he said.
He reminded Del Rosario it was under his leadership in the Department of Foreign Affairs when the country lost control over the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) to China.