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Philippines should adhere to UNCLOS – Del Rosario

Del Rosario

MANILA, Philippines -  The Philippines must be firm in adhering to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the ruling handed down by an arbitral tribunal, which invalidated China’s claim to the South China Sea, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said over the weekend.

Del Rosario said the Philippines’ chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a unique opportunity to show the country’s resolve and focus on the principle of centrality and the chair’s ability to propose the agenda.

“Our proposed agenda should have included an open discussion on the outcome of the arbitral tribunal, which effectively addresses a lawful approach to ASEAN’s most crucial security concern in the region,” Del Rosario told The STAR

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. has said the ASEAN is fast-tracking the framework of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

Del Rosario emphasized that the development of a COC framework, with the Philippines as chair and pushing for its completion, would be “an exercise in futility if the tribunal outcome is not factored in and it is not recognized as being a most important component of the framework.”  

“The Philippines should be asserting effective leadership as chair of ASEAN,” Del Rosario said. “We have an opportunity which we should not forgo. By seizing this opportunity, we can be confident that we will not be short-changing the many generations to come, who should be benefiting from our proactive leadership.”

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Del Rosario warned there would be contradicting forces acting on the content and speed of completion of the framework, noting it already took at least a decade and a half to craft the COC.

He noted that with the use of proxies, China had continued to delay its forward movement.  

China, he said, assumed a delaying strategy as it needed more time to complete its unlawful expansion agenda in the South China Sea.

“Now that China has virtually completed its unlawful agenda, including militarization, it may take a new position of acceding to advance the framework, as long as it does not adversely affect what it has developed in the South China Sea,” Del Rosario said.  

“If we are not careful, the framework may even be used to preserve China’s unlawful expansion gains, and should it arise, we must prevent this from happening,” he added.

The country’s former top diplomat stressed that the Philippines must make every effort to tell the whole world that advocating a rules-based regime is what the country is and what it does.

With the Philippines’ victory at The Hague, Del Rosario said, the country must determine what its options are toward advancing national interest.

As the architect of the Philippine foreign policy, President Duterte has decided to manifest the softest diplomacy possible toward China by offering, among other considerations, to shelve any discussions on the tribunal outcome.  

China’s cold and calculated response to this was to proceed in further militarizing the reclaimed islands.  

Yasay said on Tuesday the ASEAN had expressed concern over recent developments and militarization in the South China Sea, with China’s installation of weapon systems.

Since diplomacy is about reciprocity, Del Rosario said, the government’s response has raised questions on whether to revisit the foreign policy strategy.

“We must not accept the position that China’s completion of its unlawful expansion agenda must be considered as a fait accompli that renders us helpless,” Del Rosario said.

“According to the ruling based on UNCLOS, what China has done in the South China Sea is unlawful. It behooves us, therefore, to start from there, and not end there.”

Del Rosario said various foreign officials had discussed their sentiments and reaction to the Philippines’ shelving of the arbitral outcome.

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