The Philippines has asserted anew its historic arbitral victory against China before the international community, even if President Rodrigo Duterte lately dismissed the ruling as a “piece of paper” he could easily throw away.
The government underscored the importance of the 2016 arbitral award on the South China Sea during the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United States (ASEAN-US) dialogue, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Saturday.
Elizabeth Buensuceso, acting foreign affairs undersecretary for bilateral relations and association of ASEAN affairs, represented the Philippines in the dialogue held via a video conference on Thursday.
Apart from the arbitral ruling, Buensuceso stressed the importance of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea amid “regional uncertainty” in the South China Sea.
She also spoke on the presence of foreign maritime militia vessels in the country’s maritime zones, saying it “not only infringes upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, but also threatens the security and stability in the region.”
The DFA official also noted the Philippines’ diplomatic protests over the “shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuvers, and radio challenges” by the Chinese Coast Guard against the Philippine Coast Guard vessels in late April during their maritime patrols and training exercises in Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Panatag.
Her remarks during the ASEAN-US dialogue came a day after Duterte belittled the 2016 Hague ruling which reaffirmed the country’s rights in its exclusive economic zone and junked China’s “nine-dash line” doctrine, saying it should end up in the trash bin.
“They filed a case; we won. But that paper, in real life, between nations, that paper is nothing,” Duterte said in vernacular, as he lambasted his critics once again for urging him to seek the ruling’s enforcement.
“Actually, if you give that to me, I will tell you ‘son of a b***h that is only a paper.’ I will throw that in a waste basket,” he added.
The Philippine leader also said that calling him to seek the United Nations support on the current developments in the Philippine waters is “a waste of time.”
He added it would merely disrupt the good relations of China and the Philippines as Beijing has refused to acknowledge the arbitral award.
Duterte’s latest defeatist remarks were highly-criticized by local and international groups as China maintains its aggressive posture in the maritime dispute, fortifying its artificial islands over Philippine reefs.
Since Duterte came into power in 2016, he has refused to flaunt Manila’s victory in The Hague-based arbitral court that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims over the resource-rich waters.
His most powerful affirmation of the arbitral ruling, at least according to his critics, was during his debut appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, where he described it as “beyond compromise.”
U.S. sides with ASEAN allies
During the dialogue, the head of Washington’s delegation affirmed the United States’ commitment in supporting the Philippines and its other allies in the region.
“Ambassador Atul Keshap, head of the United States delegation, agreed with the Philippine position and reiterated United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s commitment to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. that the United States will stand by the side of their ASEAN allies, especially the Philippines,” the DFA said.
The US also expressed concern over what it called “worrisome” activities that “erode sovereignty, limit the rights of other states, and erode their ability to pursue the well-being of their people.”
It also noted that unlawful maritime claims pose a “serious threat” to the freedom of navigation and overflight, which in turn affect trade and commerce in ASEAN.
The US also expressed alarm over “illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and hoped to explore sustainable transboundary fisheries management” as a priority area under ASEAN-US maritime cooperation.
According to the DFA, Washington conveyed its willingness for increased collaboration with the ASEAN member states in assisting in the further development and integration of regional maritime data fusion and coordination centers in order to improve their law enforcement capabilities.
The Philippines led the discussion on maritime cooperation and welcomed Washington’s support and commitment to helping ASEAN members enhance maritime law enforcement capabilities through various programs.
The country also underscored the need for “enhanced collaboration” in areas such as conservation of marine resources, the safety of navigation and communication at sea, and search and rescue operations, according to the DFA.
“Maritime cooperation is a vital element, a solid foundation for the prosperity, peace, and continued work of ASEAN with our external partners like the United States,” Buensuceso said.
“We stand to succeed by combining our diverse knowledge in this very important area of cooperation,” she added.
The meeting’s participants also reiterated calls for adherence to the rule of law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, the exercise of self-restraint, resolution of disputes by peaceful means, and other activities to build trust and confidence.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Saturday dismissed speculations that the upcoming debate on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) was initiated by the administration to distract the public from other issues.
“That’s not true,” he wrote in a tweet, in response to a social media post alleging that the debate between presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque and retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was just a tactic.
“It is entirely my take that we the people need to know who lost Scarborough Shoal,” he added.
Duterte recently dared Carpio to debate with him — only to back out from the challenge two days later.
Carpio is among the legal luminaries who filed the arbitral case against China before The Hague court and one of the most vocal critics on the administration’s handling of the maritime dispute.
When the President dared Carpio for a face off, he said he only had two questions for the former magistrate.
“Who asked the ships to retreat and what did you do after the retreat? We filed a case; then we won. Can we enforce it?” the President asked.
He posed the questions as he accused Carpio of being involved in the controversial pullout of Navy ships from the WPS during the 2012 standoff between the Philippine and Chinese naval vessels in Scarborough Shoal.
The former magistrate denied it, saying he was serving in the Supreme Court at that time and “all I knew about the withdrawal of Philippine Navy ships was what I read in the newspapers.”
On Friday, Roque announced that he was designated by the President to face Carpio as advised by the Cabinet members.
They purportedly claimed that it won’t benefit the Filipino nation and that the President’s remarks on the debate will affect government policies, he added.
Roque also said the Cabinet members thumbed down the Duterte-Carpio face-off since pitting the two would be unfair.
“Why should President Duterte agree on the debate with Attorney Carpio? Even if he was a former magistrate, he is now an ordinary lawyer. It does not seem fair,” he said.