At UN General Assembly: Duterte asserts sea row decision
The President emphasized that the Philippines is committed firmly to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Arbitral Award.
AFP/Manuel Elias/United Nations

At UN General Assembly: Duterte asserts sea row decision

(The Freeman) - September 24, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  President Rodrigo Duterte invoked the 2016 The Hague ruling declaring the South China Sea as within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in a video address to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday night.

The President's position came as a surprise as it marks the first time he stressed clearly that the Philippines will adhere to The Hague ruling.

Duterte said the Philippines rejects strongly the efforts to undermine the 2016 arbitral ruling on the South China Sea.

The President emphasized that the Philippines is committed firmly to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Arbitral Award.

Duterte also noted the increasing number of nations supporting the country when it comes to the Award on the disputed South China Sea.

"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 further in his first ever UNGA address.

 Duterte also urged all stakeholders in the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, and

the Middle East and Africa to exercise restraint and pursue dialogue and the peaceful

resolution of disputes, in accordance with the UN Charter and the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes.

“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," Duterte said.

The President also cautioned against rising geo-political tensions and new flashpoints, heightening fears and tearing people apart.

“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,” Duterte said.

Policy on China remains

Despite Duterte’s unequivocal statement before the UNGA, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said 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.

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.— Philippine Star News Service, JMO (FREEMAN)

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