Ruling hailed; Philippines thanks responsible nations for support
(The Philippine Star) - July 13, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, the top diplomat of the Aquino administration and brain trust in taking China to court, hailed the Arbitral Tribunal yesterday for its ruling favoring the Philippines.

Del Rosario also thanked “responsible nations” for their support for arbitration.

“At the outset, we should welcome the award and thank the Arbitral Tribunal for their wisdom and objectivity,” Del Rosario said in a statement.

“We should proffer our deep gratitude to the community of responsible nations which has firmly supported us, and we trust that these nations will continue their invaluable support to have all relevant countries respect the rule of law as handed down by the arbitral tribunal,” he said.

He said former president Benigno Aquino III had taken an official position on the issue to defend what is “legitimately ours” as mandated by our Constitution, which led to the filing of the arbitration case against China.

“The Award further affirms our collective belief that right is might and that international law is the great equalizer among states,” Del Rosario said.

He said the award provides a basis to further talks and cooperation among all parties concerned, including China.  

“This has been proposed by President Rodrigo Duterte so that good faith discussions, based on the rule of law, can be commenced to prepare the way for negotiations and a lasting settlement among all parties with claims in the South China Sea,” Del Rosario said. 

Malacañang, however, withheld comment on the tribunal’s ruling, saying the decision will have to be studied first by President Duterte.

“We shall wait for the Solicitor General’s interpretation,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a text message to reporters.

“The Solicitor General shall provide the President a synopsis of the ruling tomorrow morning (July 13) and a complete and thorough interpretation in five days,” he added. Andanar confirmed the arbitration ruling was tackled at last night’s Cabinet meeting.

Vice President Leni Robredo attended last night’s Cabinet meeting and issued a statement on the ruling.

“We hope that both parties respect the ruling made today and that the dispute be solved peacefully,” she said.

The defense department and the Armed Forces of the Philippines on the other hand, declined to issue any statement on the ruling.

Other officials, however, called on China to respect the ruling of the UN-backed tribunal.

From coastal villages to the halls of Congress, Filipinos yesterday welcomed with jubilation the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague repudiating China’s claim in the West Philippine Sea.

Senators said the ruling – announced in Manila at around 5 p.m. – would put the Philippines in a stronger negotiating position with China and help ensure the security of Filipino fishermen in waters being coveted by China.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III echoed the statement, calling on China to respect the ruling.

“We call on China and other states to respect such a reasonable and objective ruling. Our government should now find ways to peacefully assert this power of control immediately for the benefit of our fishermen and, in the long term, for the benefit of future generations of Filipinos who may discover the yet unknown riches of this EEZ,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Loren Legarda said all state parties to the UNCLOS are duty-bound to respect the decision of the tribunal.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the decision is a triumph of Philippine sovereignty and international law.

She said President Duterte must use all democratic multilateral platforms to protect our national interest and foster stronger ties with our regional neighbors.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the rights of the Filipino people in the West Philippine Sea have been vindicated in international law through the ruling. 

Sen. Franklin Drilon said the decision puts clarity to the claims of both the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

“I call on other nations to respect the ruling and help maintain the rule of law. We hope that the decision puts to rest any tension, mend strained relations and restore goodwill among countries in the region. ASEAN and China can now move forward to finalize the Code of Conduct to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Drilon said.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said the country should reiterate its commitment to a rules-based and peaceful settlement of the disputes.

“Diplomatic efforts to settle issues will still be very important given the nature of international law. I have no doubt that this decision will be welcomed not just by the Philippines but also by several states comprising the community of nations,” Angara said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in case the Duterte administration decides to take the negotiation route with China as previously announced, the “milestone decision will enhance our bargaining position.”

“In case China continues to ignore this historic ruling, the Philippines can opt to go to the UN General Assembly even for a partial but substantive implementation of the ruling,” Lacson said.

He said the UN may send an international contingent of peacekeeping force to maintain peace and order in areas that China might refuse to give up.

Sen. Leila de Lima, who was among the Philippine delegates in The Hague, said the decision reaffirmed the country’s right to its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and may limit China’s expansionist plans in the West Philippine Sea.

“This ruling gives us the international legal basis under the UNCLOS to challenge China’s further expansionist moves. Together with our western allies like the United States, Japan and the international community in general, we should utilize this ruling to the utmost in defense of our sovereignty, EEZ entitlements and freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea,” De Lima said.

“The tribunal’s ruling is no paper judgment. Our government should exhaust all avenues and encourage full compliance of the decision through peaceful and diplomatic means,” Sen. Grace Poe said.

“The important thing now is for China to honor and recognize the ruling,” Sen. Vicente Sotto III said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV called the landmark decision a “historic victory” for the country.

“Equally important is that, based on early reports, it is definitive, categorical and expectedly upheld the provisions of UNCLOS which could help the Duterte administration in pursuing the next course of action,” Trillanes said.

“Lastly, the favorable decision is a vindication of the foreign policy direction of the Aquino administration,” he added.

Reboot in relations

For Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the decision can “serve as a reboot in the stalled China-Philippines diplomatic relations.”

“It gives the Philippines a more equal footing in the inevitable bilateral talks with China, who should not lose face. Together with having a new administration, the ruling allows both parties to come to the negotiating table with fresh perspectives,” Pangilinan said.

“I suggest we remind China of the centuries old people-to-people interactions between our nations, and of the similar historical indignities we faced as colonies of foreign powers. Of the latter, we can tell them that their occupation of the reefs in the West Philippine Sea resonates to that past,” he added.

He said the Philippine government must ensure that resources in the West Philippine Sea, including corals, are not destroyed, and that Filipino fishermen are able to exercise their livelihood sustainably and to fish in their traditional fishing grounds without fear, and in solidarity with fishers of other nations.

Sen. Joel Villanueva said the ruling is a victory, “not only for the Philippines, but more importantly for the rule of law.”

“I call on China to respect the tribunal’s decision and for both parties to work together for our mutual benefit as all neighbors must,” Villanueva said.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said the decision “provides the best chance for the Philippines to have a favorable outcome in any future multilateral or bilateral talks.”

“The international tribunal has backed our claim and it’s clear that China must comply as a member of the community of nations,” Aquino said.

“We should urge China as part of the community of nations to respect the decision of the Arbitral Court and to adhere to the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in accordance with international law,” said presumptive Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

He lauded Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and the other members of the Philippine team for “the rigorous research on the issue and helping the government and our people better understand its nuances and ramifications for the nation and our foreign policy.”

He said the government – especially Congress – will study the ruling “so that we can determine our next moves on the issue, particularly with respect to stepping up economic exploration efforts in the South China Sea and maintaining peace and stability in the region.”

Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza and former solicitor general Florin Hilbay said the PCA affirmed “almost all of the submissions” of the Philippine government in its award.

“With this award, issued by a distinguished panel of impartial legal experts, the rights and obligations of the parties under UNCLOS are now clarified,” Jardeleza said.

They cited major submissions of the Philippines upheld by the tribunal, led by the declaration of China’s nine-dash line as contrary to UNCLOS and with no basis in law.

The award also affirmed the Philippines’ stance that China’s move to shoo away Filipino fishermen at the disputed Panatag Shoal was also unlawful.

Happy but wary

Fishermen in Infanta, Pangasinan said they hope the Chinese would respect the ruling and let Filipino fishermen enter Panatag Shoal as they had been doing for a long time.

“Not yet totally happy because we’re not yet sure if the Chinese will accept the decision,”  said Jowe Legaspi, a barangay councilman.

For another fisherman, Conrado Arig, the ruling at least has given them a reason to hope.

Earlier yesterday, militant student and youth groups picketed outside the Chinese embassy in Makati City to demand the pullout of Chinese vessels from Philippine waters.

The League of Filipino Students (LFS) also criticized Yasay for supposedly contravening the Philippine claim to islands and land features in the West Philippine Sea.

“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 spokesperson JP Rosos said.

He noted giving China share in the resources in areas within Philippine territory is a violation of the country’s national patrimony.

“Secretary Yasay should be the first to uphold our rights over the sea. This means that the government should be able to guarantee that we will not be limited in our own territories because of the presence of foreign vessels,” said Rosos.

“Our claims in the West Philippine Sea are not simply claims. These territory and waters hold an integral part in our economy. The government should ensure that we are able to gain the wide array of resources in these waters by ensuring that there is no foreign power that stays in our territories which exploit these resources for themselves,” he added.

“On this historic day, we resolutely assert our freedom and sovereignty. The Filipino youth is united with the Filipino people in standing against China’s territorial claims, coupled with acts of piracy and aggression. China should back off our territories,” he pointed out.

“The series of escalating incursions and violations committed by the Chinese government shows their desperation as their claims of inherent sovereignty and 9-dash line were baseless. Their aggression shows that they are becoming desperate since their territorial claims cannot be defended by any historical records or reasonable argument,” he added.

Before the announcement of the ruling yesterday, several civic groups held an early victory celebration at the Baywalk facing the Manila Bay, highlighted by the release of 500 red, white, and blue balloons – the colors of the Philippine flag.

Earlier, Kabayan party-list congressman Harry Roque told reporters any ruling of the PCA will not resolve the dispute in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

Netizens hailed the ruling, calling it a triumph for the Philippines.

Former presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda in his Twitter account said the nine-dash line claim of China has been dashed by the ruling.

“Right is might! This is Rule of Law in action,” he said.

“Whether China acknowledges it or not, the West Philippine Sea is STILL going to be part of the Philippines,” another netizen remarked.

Others stressed the UN tribunal ruling should be respected.

“So China is rejecting the UN tribunal decision. The  Philippines won. Accept that. It’s ours and it has always been our #WestPHSea.

“What is ours is ours. To God be the Glory! Mabuhay Pilipinas #CHexit” Twitter users @kathinko and @aljdelacruz posted respectively. – With Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez, Alexis Romero, Cesar Ramirez, Delon Porcalla, Evelyn Macairan, Jess Diaz, Perseus Echeminada, Jaime Laude, Edu Punay, Helen Flores, Charmie Joy Pagulong

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