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Robredo on arbitral win in West Philippine Sea: 5 years of missed opportunities

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Robredo on arbitral win in West Philippine Sea: 5 years of missed opportunities
This handout photo taken on April 27, 2021 and received from the Philippine Coastguard on May 5, 2021 shows Philippine coastguard personnel aboard their ship BRP Cabra monitoring Chinese vessels (R) at Sabina Shoal, a South China Sea outcrop claimed by Manila located about 135 kilometres (73 nautical miles) west of the Philippine island of Palawan.
Handout / Philippine Coastguard / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — As the country celebrates its historic win against China Monday, Vice President Leni Robredo said today’s commemoration marked “five years of missed opportunities” after the government made little efforts to press its claim to the West Philippine Sea.  

Five years ago, a United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claim over the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

Despite the victory, Beijing rejected the ruling, and the Duterte administration “set aside” the arbitral award to seek stronger ties with China.

“Since then, national leadership has yet to fully flex the ruling as an instrument to pursue our national interests, failing to invoke it in strong terms in the forums that matter the most,” Robredo said.

“Our fisherfolk remain unable to enter areas that have been the source of livelihood for generations of Filipinos. Alliances that could have strengthened were allowed to erode, while those who bully their way into our waters have been treated with deference, and at times, subservience. The dream of a regional architecture founded on respect and mutual prosperity has become even more elusive,” she added.

The vice president also stressed the Hague ruling “cannot be erased from the history books, and cannot be denied despite the unending lies spewed forth by a formidable machinery of disinformation.”

“Filing the case before the tribunal— standing up for what is right, against the economic and military might of a world power— yielded the admiration and respect of the entire world,” Robredo said. 

“Today’s commemoration is a reminder, a challenge, and a promise: that if only we can remember, if only we can unite, if only we can rediscover our spirit and once again stand for what is right—we will find, beneath the rubble of cowardice and neglect, our courage, our dignity, and our national pride,” she added. 

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US “stands by its allies and partners in defending their maritime rights and standing up for freedom of the seas.”

DFA: Ruling is 'North Star'

In a video statement in June, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stressed President Rodrigo Duterte's remarks before the UN General Assembly that the ruling is "beyond compromise" and is part of international law.

The president has also played the ruling down, calling it just a piece of paper. 

But, Locsin said in June, "for as long as nations abide by the rule of law and not of military might, the Award is the North Star that will keep us on course in the present, and that will point us back to the right direction in the future should we, in a moment of weakness or inaction, lose our way."    

The Palace has also rejected criticism that the government is not pressing the ruling enough, saying that Chinese vessels no longer harass Filipino fisherfolk near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off the coast of Zambales province.

This, it said, is a result of better ties with China. In 2019, Duterte said he had reached an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that would allow Chinese fishers in Philippine waters and vice versa.

The Palace has, at one point, said that the undocumented agreement that does not have approval from the Senate is valid and binding but also, years later, that there is no such agreement.

Fish in our time: Duterte and Xi's 'undocumented' deal on sea row

‘Dismal’

Before he was elected in 2016, Duterte had said he would defend the country's claims in the West Philippine Sea.

But in his fifth State of the Nation Address in July 2020, Duterte said he was “inutile” and “cannot do anything” when it comes to challenging China. In May, he belittled the 2016 legal victory, calling it a “piece of paper” that he will just “throw away.”

In a forum organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said Duterte has “betrayed” his constitutional duty to uphold the national interests of the country.

He added the president’s record of asserting the rights of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea has been “dismal.” — Gaea Katreena Cabico

LENI ROBREDO SOUTH CHINA SEA WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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