Duterte now 'effectively' invokes UN ruling vs China on South China Sea
MANILA, Philippines — Despite his previous statements that he would set aside, for now, the United Nations-backed arbitral ruling against China, President Rodrigo Duterte has now “effectively” invoked the ruling after he told Beijing to lay off Pag-asa Island, Malacañang said on Monday.
In a speech in Palawan on April 3, Duterte told China not to “touch” Pag-asa Island following the surge of vessels from a Chinese fishing fleet believed to be maritime militia.
Pag-asa Island is the largest in the Kalayaan Island Group or Spratlys occupied by Filipinos.
“Effectively his previous statement, earlier, when he said ‘do not touch our property and if you do any harm to our soldiers, we will respond in kind.’ That effectively has already made a very strong assertion of sovereignty and statement relative to the arbitral ruling,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
Is Duterte now invoking the ruling? Panelo said: “Exactly, yes.”
Despite warmer ties with China under the Duterte administration, Panelo called on China to respect the ruling.
“[A]s far as we are concerned there has been an arbitral ruling issued by a tribunal based on the law on the seas and accepted by international law. So we feel that we have a judgment which has a stamp of permanence; it cannot be taken away from us, and therefore they should respect it although they do not believe in it,” he said.
“That is what I said in my statement that we urge China to avoid any acts that will be considered as harassing our fishermen in that area, or that might provoke hostility and it can even affect the bilateral relations between two countries,” he said.
The Philippines sealed a historic win against China before the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in The Hague in July 2016, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims to almost all of the South China Sea.
China, however, has refused to recognize the ruling.
“We already did, in my latest statement, we said we urge China to respect the arbitral ruling, I already did that,” Panelo said when asked about China not honoring its commitment to deescalate the tension in the South China Sea.
The government’s strong statement against China came days before he visits Beijing for the second Belt and Road Forum.
Panelo said it would be up to Duterte to whether he would raise the Hague ruling during his visit to China later this April.
“That will be the President’s call. Usually, in a bilateral meeting, the host makes an opening statement and in that opening statement, the host can raise whatever issue he wants. And then the invited visiting head of state responds. In that response, he can raise an issue he wants,” he said.
The government, Panelo said, was waiting for China’s response to diplomatic protests fielded by the Philippines before making another move.
“We expect them to respond whatever response they want, and then act accordingly,” he said.
He said the government welcomes the statement of China to settle the dispute through negotiations.
“In other words doon sa negotiation you can repeat your demand na move away, kasi magiging official na ’yon. Kasi initially puro tayo salita muna, wala pang formal eh,” he said.
( In other words, you can repeat your demand for them to move away during the negotiation.)/ac