MANILA, Philippines – Amid cheers among Filipinos after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) based in The Hague rejected on Tuesday China’s claims over most of the West Philippine Sea, some netizens wondered about the rather somber reaction of Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.
“Historic decision in our favor delivered to our countrymen in such a sad undertone. Pilipino ka ba Yasay?” asked Twitter user @JovanEstrada.
“Is it me or Yasay really looked sad when he announced that we won the arbitration case,” another user noted.
A photograph of Yasay smiling widely next to Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua also circulated online, with some netizens asking why can’t the country’s top diplomat react similarly to the arbitration ruling.
Another netizen, @apybanana, asked if Yasay’s somber expression is an attempt to tone down the celebration.
“The reason why Yasay is sad (is) because from now on, he will go through hell in terms of negotiating diplomatic relations with China,” Twitter user Philip Echavez-Lewis added.
Yasay explained that the government should be circumspect in its reactions to the PCA ruling.
“We have to be circumspect and restrained in our reactions. We cannot gloat about our triumph,” he added.
Filipinos celebrated the ruling of the PCA, which sided with the Philippines in the case that it filed against China in connection with the West Philippine Sea dispute.
Minutes after the release of the ruling, Yasay delivered a short statement in what some described as a somber demeanor.
“Our experts are studying the Award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves. In the meantime, we call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety,” he said.
“The Philippines reiterates its abiding commitment to efforts to pursue the peaceful resolution and management of disputes with a view to promoting and enhancing peace and stability in the region,” Yasay added.
The foreign affairs chief said the country strongly affirms its respect for the milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the region, referring to it as South China Sea despite the previous administration’s order naming it as West Philippine Sea.
China, which did not take part in the arbitration, has rejected the ruling and said that it would not recognize the decision.
An expert in Chinese affairs said the posture of Yasay was consistent with the stand of the Duterte administration not to flaunt the ruling.
“I would read in it a concern that China would over-react especially through military means,” University of the Philippines Asian Center professor Aileen Baviera was quoted as saying in an ABS-CBN News report.
“The call for self restraint was in part addressed at that,” she added.
Earlier, militant youth group League of Filipino Students (LFS) criticized Yasay over his earlier pronouncements in connection with the dispute.
Citing an interview of the DFA chief, the youth group said Yasay’s repeated claim that the waters inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone are international waters is an unacceptable and treacherous remark.
“If we consider these islands and islets as ours, then it is our right to have these areas for our economic needs. If we allow China to remain freely, then our fishermen cannot compete. We should be able to protect our capacity to fish in these waters,” LFS national spokesman JP Rosos said.