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Arroyo lawyer: South China Sea quiet during GMA admin

FILE — Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo attends the first session of Congress. Philstar.com/AJ Bolando

MANILA, Philippines — It was relatively quiet and peaceful in the South China Sea during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her lawyer Estelito Mendoza said Thursday.

Mendoza, a Marcos-era solicitor general, said that China did not contest the Philippines' baselines following the enactment of Republic Act 9522, which defined the archipelagic baselines of the country, in 2009.

RA 9522 declared that the Philippines exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction over a "Regime of Islands" consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This includes the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc or the Scarborough Shoal.

"China did not contest our 12-mile territorial sea. China implicitly recognized our 200-mile exclusive economic zone but it protested our claim over the Kalayaan Group of Islands and the Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal," Mendoza said in a televised press conference during the launch of a West Philippine Sea primer.

The passage of the Philippine Baselines Law, which was done to comply with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, triggered protests from China and Vietnam in 2009.

Former Executive Eduardo Ermita insisted that the Joint Maritime Seismic Understanding signed in 2005 — and which was assailed at the Supreme Court — eased tensions in the South China Sea.

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Mendoza further argued that the Philippines' arbitral claim over the disputed waters during the Aquino administration triggered China's island-building activities.

"That is now going to be the most difficult problem of President (Rodrigo) Duterte — these islands, which China has built during the Aquino administration. Now beyond that, during the Arroyo administration there was not just peace and quiet. There was a cooperative effort not only between the Philippines and China but including Vietnam," Mendoza said.

Under the JMSU, the three countries agreed to share the results and information gathered during the research over the contested waters. The JMSU lapsed in 2008, a year before the Baselines Law was enacted.

"There were questions of constitutionality but the point is that that shows that cooperation not necessarily war in the South China Sea is a possibility and perhaps is the best solution," Mendoza said.

In his Twitter account, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay noted that he strongly opposed the JMSU during the Aquino administration.

 

 

In a press briefing in September 2014,  China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that "China asserts indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and the adjacent waters, and China's activities on relevant islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands fall entirely within China's sovereignty and are totally justifiable."

She added that "the construction work China is undertaking on relevant islands is mainly for the purpose of improving the working and living conditions of people stationed on these islands."

Meanwhile, Arroyo said that she believes that Duterte knows what he is doing in handling the South China Sea issue. The former president added that she did not make specific recommendations to Duterte on how to resolve the dispute.

"As far as China is concerned, our strategic direction should be to emphasize our economic relations and transcend to the extent that they can matters at issue between us," Arroyo said.

On July 12, 2016, a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines on its arbitration case against China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

The Duterte administration has decided to put off raising the arbitral tribunal ruling during its bilateral negotiations with China. The president has said more than once that he is open to joint exploration with China.

RELATED: Philippines will not raise arbitral award in direct talks with China

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