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PNA posts Xinhua editorial hitting South China Sea arbitration

The Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, in a ruling last July 12, invalidated China’s massive claim in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea and upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights over areas seized or claimed by the Chinese. PCA/Released, file

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:23 p.m.) — State-run Philippines News Agency over the weekend published a commentary on the South China Sea issue initially posted by China's Xinhua News Agency.

PNA has taken down the article as of this post, but not before it reaped criticism online for publishing the piece in the first place.

The article, titled "Commentary: Time to turn a new leaf on South China Sea issue", criticizes the ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal on the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, part of which Manila claims and calls the West Philippine Sea.

On July 12, 2016, an international tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands issued an award in favor of the Philippines, invalidating China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

In its commentary published August 6, the Chinese state-run news agency branded the ruling as "ill-founded."

"More than one year after an ill-founded award at a South China Sea arbitration unilaterally delivered by an ad hoc tribunal in The Hague, the situation in the South China Sea has stabilized and improved thanks to the wisdom and sincerity of China and the parties concerned," the article read.

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Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said on Wednesday afternoon that he has asked PNA officials to explain why they should not face administrative charges for posting the Xinhua commentary.

“We have already sent a memo to PNA to explain in writing why they should not be held liable for any administrative charges,” Andanar said in a statement.

“We will take appropriate action against liable PNA officials and/or staff, if they are found to commit negligence in carrying out their duties and responsibilities,” he added.

Andanar said the PNA should have examined the content of the Xinhua commentary before uploading it on its website.

“Being the official press agency of the People's Republic of China, it is understandable that most commentaries of Xinhua News Agency reflect China's position on certain issues,” Andanar said. 

He said that while PNA and Xinhua have a content partnership, “all reposts from Xinhua, and all other partner news agencies for that matter, should undergo scrutiny and must be subject to discernment by PNA prior to reposting them.” 

The Xinhua article hailed the framework of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea which was adopted by the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China over the weekend.

Beijing regards the framework of the sea code as a concrete step to resolving the South China Sea dispute, according to the article.

"Setting a rough outline of a COC designed to prevent clashes in the South China Sea, the draft marked a crucial achievement and was hailed as a pivotal milestone for further talks," Xinhua said.

The adoption of the framework paves the way for negotiations on a legally binding code of conduct, which the Philippines and the ASEAN have been pushing for.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, however, has set conditions for the negotiations to start. He said that the situation in the South China Sea must be generally stable and that "non-parties" should not interfere for the negotations to start this year.

RELATED: Analyst: China conditions for sea code talks vague, unfair

PNA's past problems

This is not the first time that the PNA has been criticized for its content.

In May, the agency said it was "reviewing our procedures on reportage as we continue to uphold our commitment to deliver accurate and balanced news reports to the Filipino people and the world" after it drew flak for using a photograph from the Vietnam War in a story about the Marawi siege.

PNA, that same month, posted an article titled “95 nations in 3rd UPR convinced no EJKs in PHL.” It claimed that 95 nations in the 27th Universal Period Review of the UN Human Rights Council were convinced that there were no extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The article reached the UN Human Rights Council, which took to Twitter to clarify that the article was incorrect. 

“DILG Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing later denied saying some of the information in the PNA report. As soon as we learned of the error, we held the May 15 report and interviewed Assistant Secretary Densing so we could issue an accurate report thus, the story titled, “PHL's human rights situation commended at UPR,” PNA said then.

“While there have been lapses in our judgment, it has never been the policy of PNA to tolerate erroneous [reports], and it has certainly never been our intention to sow misinformation, much less share what is termed nowadays as 'fake news',” the state news agency said. — with a report from Alexis Romero

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