Locsin wants sea ruling included in SCS code
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - September 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Foreign Sec. Teddy Locsin wants The Hague court ruling part of a code of conduct in the South China Sea. It’s but right. The jurisprudence is maritime in nature. It clarifies and affirms the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It pertains to SCS disputes. All the disputants are UNCLOS signatories. So any accord on how to comport themselves must abide and be guided by the landmark 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

ASEAN and China are drafting the code of conduct. Nine of the ten ASEAN states are littoral: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. Their interests align with Locsin’s proposal.

China ignores the PCA verdict. It insists on its “nine-dash line” that makes the SCS its internal lake. That sea claim encroaches on the 200-mile exclusive economic zones, under the UNCLOS, of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam.

Backing China is ASEAN’s sole landlocked member, Laos.

The PCA outlawed China’s “nine-dash line” for two reasons. One, it had no historical basis. Two, it contravened the UNCLOS.

Manila sought arbitration in 2014. Beijing forcibly had occupied Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales. It also grabbed Mischief, Subi, Fiery Cross, Hughes, Johnson South, Gaven, and Cuarteron Reefs. It dredged and concreted those into island-fortresses. All are within Philippine EEZ and continental shelf.

The PCA said China violated Philippine sovereign rights in taking the sea features. China broke the UNCLOS in barring Filipinos from traditional Panatag fishing grounds. It worsened tension by fortifying the reefs while arbitration was ongoing. Its reef reclamations destroyed the marine environment. The PCA nullified China’s self-granted 200-mile EEZ generating from wee Spratly isles and stolen reefs.

The ruling upheld Philippine maritime rights. So too were those of other ASEAN states from whom China grabbed 20 more reefs.

A code of conduct, with sanctions on violators, will strengthen the 2002 Declaration Of Conduct in the SCS. Among the DOC’s main provisions are status quo on claims and non-militarization. China’s expansionism and armed bullying repeatedly break those rules. Beijing conveniently cites only sections that suit its incursions in the waters of small neighbor-states.

Locsin discussed the long-delayed code in a recent TV interview. He mentioned incorporating The Hague verdict in the code when asked about Manila’s non-negotiables. “I have made known: there can never be an accommodation that sets aside the Arbitral Award,” he said.

Locsin also nixed a proviso to ban world powers from the strategic waterway: “I said ‘no’, that completely undermines the very independence of the countries who are now going to agree to a code of conduct, so we don’t unnecessarily hurt each other.” More than $5 trillion in global commerce passes through the SCS every year.

The PCA has no coercive power to enforce its rulings. Inserting the SCS decision in a code of conduct will implement it. A parallel way is to table the jurisprudence at the UN’s 75th General Assembly this month. With three-fourths of 193 UN members being coastal, China’s sea aggression can be halted, say Locsin’s predecessor Albert del Rosario, retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.

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Even Meralco’s critics are baffled. The Energy Regulatory Commission is fining the electricity distributor P19 million for “bill shock” to customers during pandemic lockdown. Yet Meralco’s only “fault” was to obey and improve on ERC’s own vague guidelines.

Last March-May all private and public entities could not operate on full force. With meter readers confined to office, distribution utilities (DUs) were told temporarily to bill only estimated electricity usages based on previous months’ usage. In some cases those estimates shot through the roof. Customers complained through the media. ERC tried to avoid blame. Last week it singled out Meralco for fining. A frequent anti-Meralco ranter said the regulator was grandstanding. An ex-trade undersecretary wondered if it was fund-raising for Christmas bonus.

The fine is arbitrary, with no legal basis, Meralco cries. ERC nitpicked on technicalities. Like, there was never any rule during those fuzzy days to print the word “estimated” on the bill’s title page. ERC never said up to when the estimations would be either. In the midst of consumer uproar, it just suddenly told all DUs to revert to actual meter reading by end-June.

The ERC website and Facebook page show that from Mar. 26 to May 22 it issued four advisories. Within those less than eight weeks it expected the DUs to comply, despite system and operational limitations. The May 5 and May 22 advisories were late. They should have been issued five and seven days earlier, respectively, to align with government extensions or variations of lockdown guidelines. At some point ERC merely followed Meralco’s lead. Its July 7 advisory to refund any overestimated bill came out after Meralco’s published offer to do so. Same with ERC’s demand for additional lifeline discounts, stated in its penalty decision, after Meralco itself announced the same to Congress.

Still Meralco alone was fined P19 million, with no justification for the amount. In other countries, like Malaysia, governments helped utilities explain any spikes in power bills.

Meanwhile, ERC has yet to act on the mysterious grant to a favored private firm of state power over electricity fees. Two lawmakers exposed the firm’s collection of P2 billion a year in power transmission fees that should go to the government. That P2 billion a year is charged to consumers nationwide. Is ERC leaving them unprotected, the lawmakers asked.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/Amazon-Exposes

Paperback: https://tinyurl.com/Anvil-Exposes or at National Bookstores.

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