After UN meet, Palace says Philippines' ties with China to move forward
President Rodrigo Duterte with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the state banquet at the Rizal hall of Malacañang Palace on November 20, 2018.
Pool/Russell Palma
After UN meet, Palace says Philippines' ties with China to move forward
Alexis Romero ( - September 23, 2020 - 6:14pm

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque clarified that the Philippines' policy on China has not changed. He said the Philippines "would probably accept the fact that there will be no resolution in the near future as far as the territorial dispute is concerned."

"If we cannot resolve territorial issues, then we can put it temporarily on hold and we will proceed with matters that we can move forward, specifically trade and investment. It is not the sum total of our bilateral relations with China. But of course, it is important that the President restate a legal fact," the Palace spokesman said.

"We are not setting it (ruling) aside. The thing is, you don’t set aside a legal fact... What we are saying is, for bilateral ties purposes, because  we cannot resolve this territorial dispute, then we will not pursue the resolution of the territorial dispute, we will proceed with all other aspects of our bilateral relations," he added.

Pressed how the Philippines could move forward from the issue, Roque said Duterte's address in the assembly was "a perfect example of what we can do."

"We can only rely on multilateralism right now, I don’t think we can even rely on unilateral use of force, not only it’s prohibited under international law, but we also have limited means by way of that option and that has been stated by the President time and again," the Palace spokesman said.

"We don’t have to do anything, that’s the thing...It is a legal fact that forms part of international law. So the President only, as I said, restated an established legal fact already... Nothing else has to be done because precisely nothing that any other country that would like to undermine that award will ever have legal effect. They simply cannot erase that ruling," he added.

Philippines to reject efforts to undermine South China Sea arbitral ruling 

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday has vowed to reject efforts to undermine the historic arbitral ruling that voided China's expansive maritime claim in the South China Sea during his first address before the United Nations General Assembly.

Duterte, accused by critics of selling out the Philippines' rights in the disputed region in exchange for Chinese aid, said the ruling is already part of international law and could no longer be abandoned by governments.

"We must remain mindful of our obligations and commitment to the charter of the United Nations and as amplified by the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes. The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the 2016 arbitral award," Duterte told the assembly, which included representatives from China, last Tuesday.

"The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it," he added.

In 2016, a Hague-based arbitral court ruled that China's maritime claim, which covers about 90 percent of the resource-rich South China Sea, has no legal basis. The ruling also affirmed the Philippines' sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone. China has rejected the decision, calling it "illegal since day one." The landmark ruling stemmed from a case filed by the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III, which described China's claim as "excessive" and "exaggerated."

Duterte has agreed to set aside the maritime dispute to improve the Philippines' ties with China but has given assurances that he won't give up even an inch of the country's territory to foreign powers. His administration, however, has rejected calls to file new cases against China for violating its obligation under UNCLOS to protect the marine environment. Issues related to the South China Sea can be discussed through bilateral consultations with the Chinese government, officials have said.

Duterte said the arbitral award stood for "the triumph of reason over rashness."

"We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for — the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This – as it should - is the majesty of the law," the President said.

Palace: China policy consistent

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte has been consistent with his position on the South China Sea ruling.

"We have never changed our position on the arbitral ruling. I have said it over and over again that there is nothing that can undermine that decision, it is evidence of customary law," Roque told CNN Philippines Wednesday.  

"The forum where he addressed, where he delivered his line is a multilateral forum, the United Nations, and it does not involve bilateral ties specifically with China. So, the President simply restated the fact that the arbitral ruling is a part of international law," he added.

Asked what compelled Duterte to bring up the ruling during the assembly, Roque replied: "Well, it’s the first time that the President spoke in the UN General Assembly. So, it’s the first time that the President was able to say what has been his consistent position all along. Perhaps if he had delivered his speech in the UN General Assembly earlier, then he would have said the same thing earlier."

"The President is a lawyer so he knows exactly the effect of that ruling. And again, nothing, nothing that any other country would do can ever change the fact that the international community has already accepted the fact that there is no legal basis for the historic claims being used by China in its claim for a big part of the South China Sea," he added.

Roque said even hostile acts like military occupation would not change the fact that the arbitral ruling is already recognized by international law.

"That is why even in instances of military occupation, that will never have the effect of occupation which is an element for acquisition of territory. It simply will not be recognized by international law," he said.

"Even if they forcibly occupy all the disputed territories that will have no effect as far as international law is concerned because military activities and even military occupation will never have any legal effect as far as title is concerned."

China has created artificial islands on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Burgos (Gaven), Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs, areas located off Palawan province that are also being claimed by the Philippines. Various sectors have expressed concern that China's island-building would affect freedom of flight and navigation in the area.

'Do not hate each other too much'

Duterte also warned the UN General Assembly about the possible effects of geopolitical tensions that continue to rise while the world is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the tensions could inflict a "terrible toll" on human life and property if the "word war" between some countries deteriorates into a real war of nuclear weapons and missiles.

"Escalating tensions benefit no one. New flashpoints heighten fears and tend to tear peoples apart. When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled flat," the Philippine leader said.

"I therefore call on the stakeholders in the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East and Africa: if we cannot be friends as yet, then in God’s name, let us not hate each other too much. I heard it once said, and I say it to myself in complete agreement," he added.

Roque said the Philippines would not take part in the "intramurals between super powers."

"We will advance our interests and currently, these (is an) interest to maintain friendly relations with everyone and make no enemies with anyone. So, we consider all countries as friends and we have no enemies," the Palace spokesman said.

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