Ahead of its fifth anniversary, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. reaffirmed on Wednesday the 2016 arbitral ruling awarded to the Philippines as “final”.
“The Award is final. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it; nay, even erase it from the law, history, and our collective memories,” Locsin said in a statement.
The historic ruling was awarded in favor of the Philippines on 12 July 2016 after it won the case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
It invalidates China’s expansive nine-dash claim in the South China Sea (SCS) and upholds the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
“The Award conclusively settled the status of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea,” the country’s top diplomat said.
“In summary, the Award gives littoral states guideposts on how much waters their features — be they islands or rocks — can generate, where their fishermen can fish, where they can exercise law enforcement patrols, where they can send their ships without permission from the nearest state, without creating a cause of action or a casus belli between them,” he added.
Manila has repeatedly raised the award in its maritime dispute with Beijing but China refused to acknowledge the Philippine victory, calling it “null and void”.
Chinese ships were constantly seen encroaching parts of Philippine territory over the years, the latest fleet spotted last month.
Despite this, Locsin issued the strong warning and reiterated the position made by President Rodrigo Duterte during the United Nations General Assembly saying that the award “is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon”.
“The Philippines is proud to have contributed to the international rules-based order, to the affirmation of UNCLOS, and the strengthening of the legal order over the seas,” Locsin said.
He further described the ruling as “a milestone in the corpus of international law” stressing that it “benefits the world across the board” as it can be used as the basis for other countries with “same problematic maritime features”.
“It puts one issue out of the way of conflict; because there is nothing there taken by force that results in any gain in law,” he added.
Still, Locsin reiterated his call to maintain peace and stability in South China Sea (SCS).
“For as long as nations abide by the rule of law and not of military might, the Award is the North Star that will keep us on course in the present, and that will point us back to the right direction in the future should we, in a moment of weakness or inaction, lose our way,” he said.
Relatedly, Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to summon Ambassador Huang Xilian anew over the reported increase of Chinese vessels in the country’s EEZ despite the diplomatic protest the department filed against China due to the lingering presence of its maritime vessels in the Philippine waters.
“The DFA should summon the Chinese Ambassador for a discussion,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“China should stop its abuses against our country. We, as a nation, are owed dignity and respect,” she added.
Citing a report from data analysis company Simularity, the senator said that since May, the number of likely Chinese ships spotted in the Philippine waters spiked from 129 to 238 — an increase of over 100 ships.
She added that “between mid-May and mid-June 2021, the number of ships within the Union Banks increased from 9 to 236 and the number of ships near Gaven (Burgos) Reef in Tizard Bank decreased from 234 to 71.”
“Instead of de-escalating the tensions in the disputed waters, they doubled down. This clearly shows that China is shamelessly hellbent on aggravating the situation. We protested for months yet they ignored our calls,” Hontiveros said.
As of 28 April, the department has filed 78 diplomatic protests to contradict Beijing’s claim in the EEZ.
On 12 April, DFA Acting Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso summoned Huang Xilian over the “illegal lingering” presence of Chinese ships in Julian Felipe Reef, part of the Philippines’ EEZ.
She also reiterated the firm demand of the Philippines for China to withdraw its fleet in the territory saying that its continued presence is a “source of regional tension”.
Both sides affirmed the use of peaceful settlement of disputes in addressing their differences on the WPS issue during the meeting.
Last May, President Rodrigo Duterte reaffirmed that the Philippines will maintain its diplomatic approach in dealing with China in the maritime dispute.