Philippines may lose if it brings up arbitral ruling before UN assembly â Palace
In this April 21, 2017, file photo, Chinese structures and an airstrip on the man-made Subi Reef at the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130.
CSIS AMTI via DigitalGlobe, File
Philippines may lose if it brings up arbitral ruling before UN assembly — Palace
Alexis Romero ( - September 24, 2020 - 6:39pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines may lose if it brings the issue of the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea row before the United Nations General Assembly, Malacañang said Thursday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said while the landmark ruling, which affirmed the Philippines' sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone, is now part of international law, assembly members would vote based on political and economic considerations.

"What we are saying is do not open that issue because it is already part of international law. Second, if we subject it to voting in the UN General Assembly, which is a political organ, it is not like the ICJ (International Court of Justice), not like the UN Tribunal for the Law of the Sea," Roque said at a press briefing.

"We may lose there because countries will vote for political and economic reasons. I hope I’m clear on that," he added.

A Hague-based arbitral tribunal has invalidated China's far-reaching maritime claim in the South China Sea, a busy sea lane where $5 trillion worth of goods passes through every year. China refused to recognize the ruling and continued to build artificial islands in some disputed areas, a move that some sectors fear would curtail freedom of flight and navigation.  

In his first address before the UN General Assembly last Tuesday, Duterte said the Philippines would reject attempts to undermine the arbitral ruling, which he described as "beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon."

The president, who has been accused of being too soft on the maritime row due to the aid given by China, also welcomed the support given by a growing number of states to the ruling.

Duterte's remarks have drawn praises even from his critics, some of whom are now urging him to raise the dispute before the UN. Former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, a vocal critic of Duterte's handling of the dispute, has called on the president to seek international support to enforce the arbitral ruling.

'Not a strong message'

Roque said the president merely reiterated his policy on China that critics refuse to hear.

"Well, number one, I don’t think it was a strong message. It was a restatement of an old existing policy. During the campaign, the president said he won't surrender even an inch of our territory. That is just consistent with the statement that he won't give up our territories," the Palace spokesman said.
With regard to Del Rosario's suggestion, Roque said the former foreign affairs chief should not dictate on the president.  

"I do not know his (Del Rosario) special qualification for him to dictate on the president," Roque said.

"During his time, we lost the Panatag (Scarborough Shoal), we lost physical possession of that (shoal). So, I don’t think he has much to show by way of his actual accomplishment as DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) secretary. And all I can say is we should think of our qualifications before we dictate on the sitting president who is elected by the people."

Roque said one cannot enforce an arbitral ruling since it is assumed that all countries would comply with their international obligation because they freely consented to the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal.

He said there is no way to enforce the ruling other than the recognition of parties involved. Military force may also be used but it should be subjected to voting by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, an option China is not likely to agree with, Roque added.

"The third option is...uniting for peace resolution, it’s a general assembly, but it is unlikely because we know that China's influence is huge," the Palace spokesman said.

No resolution in near future

Roque said the Philippines would continue to pursue other aspects of its relationship with China since the maritime dispute is not likely to be settled in the near future.

"Again, the president has been consistent – we will move on matters that we could move forward on including trade and investments; and we will, for the time being, set this aside because I don’t think the resolution of the territorial dispute is forthcoming in our life time," the Palace spokesman said.

"Let's leave it at that. The decision is there. It is already part of international law."
Roque said Duterte's address before the UN General Assembly was "excellent" and contained a brief summary of the president's key policies.

"Many people composed that speech. Let's just call them Team Philippines. But the subject matter mentioned by the President when it comes to international issues were selected by the president himself," he said.

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