Solon urges Ledac meeting on sea dispute with China
Newly elected Kabayan party-list representative Harry Roque urged President Rodrigo Duterte to convene the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) and involve Congress in any decision to share the West Philippine Sea with China, regardless of the results of the arbitration case.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Roque, who taught international law at the University of the Philippines College of Law before he ran for Congress, made the statement in reaction to Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s comment that the Philippines would be willing to share the seas with China.
Yasay later clarified his statement reported by Agence France-Presse that government still has to study the implications of a possible joint exploration.
“The decision on whether or not sharing of resources for a peaceful solution is not an exclusive decision to be made by the Executive. That entails sharing of national territory. The executive cannot do it alone,” Roque said.
He said Congress must concur with the executive in the form of a treaty on the part of the Senate, or law on the part of both houses of Congress.
He said Congress should be involved in matters of policy because the move for a joint exploration with China is no longer just a matter of diplomatic relations, in the aftermath of strained diplomatic ties since the Philippines under the previous Aquino administration stopped bilateral talks and filed an arbitration case before the UN-backed International Permanent Court of Arbitration.
“The decision is not for the President alone. That is an issue of policy. Kami na ang may primary jurisdiction diyan ([Congress] has the primary jurisdiction there), that they have to implement. In this issue I will say, it is the people’s representative that must make that decision since that is an issue of policy,” Roque said.
Roque urged Duterte to convene the Ledac in engaging Congress in the decision for joint exploration, criticizing former President Benigno Aquino III for failing to convene the advisory council before it filed the arbitration case against China.
“I call on the President, regardless of the decision, immediately convene the Ledac and listen to what policy makers have to say, because this is no longer purely an issue of foreign affairs. It is an issue of territory. Do not exclude Congress,” Roque said.
According to Republic Act 7640 which was approved by then President Fidel Ramos in 1992, Ledac is the consultative and advisory body to the President as the head of the national economic and planning agency.
The president serves as Ledac chairperson, while the members are Vice President, Senate President, Speaker, seven members of the Cabinet to be designated by the President, three members of the Senate designated by the Senate President, three members of the House of Representatives to be designated by the Speaker, a representative of the local government units, a representative of the youth sector and a representative of the private sector.
The National Economic Development Authority also serves as the council secretariat.
Aquino has convened the Ledac only twice since he assumed office in 2010—on Feb. 28, 2011 and Aug. 16, 2011.
The law requires Ledac to meet at least once every quarter but may be convened by the chair for special meetings, as may be necessary.
“That’s another mistake of the Aquino administration, nagmagaling sila na tatlong tao lang ng Department of Foreign Affairs ang may solusyon (they acted on their own, with only three personnel from Department of Foreign Affairs having the solution). That’s not their call. It’s an issue of what the national interest is, let Congress determine that,” Roque said.
The UN-backed tribunal is set to release its decision on the arbitration case Tuesday, putting a resolution on the maritime spat between the Philippines and China, which claimed almost the entire West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines claimed that it has full maritime entitlement in the West Philippine Sea, and that China’s nine-dash line—its historic claim over the resource-rich waters—is invalid under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), because it overlaps on the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and extended continental shelf (ECS).
The UNCLOS is the primary international law which governs maritime disputes on overlapping maritime zones. However, UNCLOS does not govern territorial disputes, which are sovereignty or ownership issues over land territory.
Insisting that it would not participate in the arbitration case, China asserts it has “indisputable sovereignty” and “historic rights” to nearly the entire South China Sea using its “nine-dash line” claim that overlaps even Philippine waters within the country’s 200-nautical-mile EEZ as mandated under the UNCLOS.
Amid the maritime spat, China has conducted massive land reclamation activities, turning submerged reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military equipment and structures.
Roque said the public should not be pinning their hopes on the arbitration case to finally end the territorial spat, noting that the case before the UN court only assumed jurisdiction over the maritime entitlement and historic rights over the waters and not the issue of sovereignty or ownership over the islands.
This meant the arbitration case would not tackle the sovereignty issue on disputed islands, such as the resource-rich Scarborough Shoal and Spratlys Group of Islands.
He lamented the failure of the previous administration to resume bilateral talks with China and lauded the present administration’s vow to resume this.
“Manalo, matalo, hindi matatapos ang hidwaan sa pinag-aagawang isla ng karagatan. Bakit? Wala nga siyang jurisdiction sa isla… Walang jurisdiction na aasahan sa arbitration na ito (Win or lose, the sea dispute will not end. Why? [The UN court] has no jurisdiction over the islands. There is no jurisdiction issue to be tackled in this arbitration case),” Roque said. With Ma. Czarina A. Fernandez, INQUIRER.net trainee/RAM/rga
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