Robredo warns: Philippines losing arbitral ruling advantage in South China Sea

Audrey Morallo - Philstar.com
Robredo warns: Philippines losing arbitral ruling advantage in South China Sea
Vice President Leni Robredo is a guest speaker at a Makati forum marking the second anniversary of the landmark ruling invalidating much of China's claims to the South China Sea.
Philstar.com / Efigenio Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo on Thursday urged the Philippines to start planning how it could move forward in protecting its sovereignty in the South China Sea, two years after the c was handed down.

Speaking at a forum marking the second anniversary of the ruling in Makati City, the vice president warned that the threat to Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea and Filipinos' security were the gravest and most alarming challenges facing the nation.

The West Philippine Sea is the part of the South China Sea that the Philippines claims.

"[O]f all the issues our country faces today, it is the threat to our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, and our people’s security, that is most grave and alarming. They make our current challenges much harder to bear," Robredo said in her keynote address in which she described China's encroachment on Philippine territory in the disputed seas as the "most serious threat to our country since World War II."

Robredo lamented the fact that the Philippines started to lose the advantage it gained through the arbitral award after Manila had chosen to set it aside while it pursued better relations with Beijing.

Robredo said that it was time for the country to protest peacefully any effort to limit or control movements in the disputed waters, through which around $3 trillion worth of trade passes, as well as the militarization of the issue.

She said that it was important for Filipinos to know that there were remedies to the contentious issue which would not warrant the declaration of war. 

"We want the world to know that, together, our nations can shine a path towards global peace, as advocates of the rule of law," she said.

In July 2016, several weeks into President Rodrigo Duterte's term, a United Nations-backed tribunal in the Hague issued the ruling that invalidated much of China's claims to the disputed waters, which were based on its so-called historical rights.

Despite the momentous decision, Duterte chose to back burn the decision in an effort to court Chinese money into the Philippine economy.

He said that he would raise the ruling with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at the right time, adding that he could not afford to go to war with the superpower.

Despite the ruling, nothing much has changed, according to the vice president, who cited the recent report on a television station which showed that personnel of the Chinese coast guard were boarding Filipino fishing boats to get some of their prize catch.

"Nobody deserves that, least of all our fishermen. Our country doesn’t deserve that. No country does," she said.

She stressed the importance of establishing an international rules-based system, which the vice president said was what stood between conflict and peace.

Robredo said that the Philippines had already demonstrated in the past that it was a "peace-maker, not an instigator of conflict."

Meanwhile, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, a strong advocate of the Philippine rigths to the disputed territory, said that China would not have de facto control over the South China Sea for as long as world powers would continue to conduct their freedom of navigation and overflight operations in the region.

He said that these actions were being justified by countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France by citing the arbitral ruling.

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