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Gov’t urged to file diplomatic protests vs China, US

/ 01:01 AM December 19, 2016

A party-list lawmaker of President Rodrigo Duterte in the House of Representatives on Sunday urged the government to file diplomatic protests against China and the United States for their “intrusion” into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque made the call after a Chinese naval vessel seized on Thursday an underwater US drone 92.5 kilometers (50 nautical miles) northwest of Subic Bay in the West Philippine Sea, an area of the South China Sea that is within the country’s 370-km EEZ.

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Can’t demand explanation

“The (US) naval probe was found well within the Philippines’ EEZ, over which the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights. While the United States have the freedom of navigation over the EEZ’s of other states, such acts must be exercised with ‘due regard’ for the interests of other states,” Roque said in a statement.

He said that while the United States “should not have conducted probes within our EEZ, the act of the Chinese submarine in retrieving the said probe is also suspicious.”

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But a maritime security expert, Jay Batongbacal, told the Inquirer by phone that the Philippines was in no position to demand an explanation from either the United States or China on why their naval assets were inside the Philippines’ EEZ.

“We can’t demand for them to leave, we can’t ask for an explanation, we cannot regulate them because under Unclos (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea), there is freedom of navigation in all high seas. The actions of the US and China are not within the jurisdiction of the Philippines,” said Batongbacal, head of the Maritime Institute of the University of the Philippines College of Law.

Abandoning rule of law

Even so, Batongbacal also said that setting aside the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the South China Sea, as President Duterte announced he would do, was tantamount to “abandoning the advocacy for the rule of law.”

“It is accepting that the regional situation is subject only to realpolitik, that whoever is more powerful gets his way,” he explained.

Batongbacal said that the Philippines stood to lose credibility should the Duterte administration decide to ignore the PCA decision, only to have the court ruling upheld by the next President.

The Aquino administration brought the case against China in the PCA after Beijing insisted on its so-called nine-dash line demarcation that encroached into the Philippines’ EEZ in the South China Sea. The court ruled in the Philippines’ favor and invalidated China’s claim.

The Philippine case was backed up by the US-led international community, which insisted that there should be freedom of navigation in the resource-rich South China Sea.

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For his part, Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon is wary of Mr. Duterte befriending China, whom the lawmaker described as an “aggressor.”

Biazon urged the President to confer with his security advisors before making policy decisions that could affect the national interest. —NIKKO DIZON

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TAGS: Harry Roque, Jay Batongbacal, PH diplomatic protest vs US and China, Philippine exclusive economic zone, US Navy drone intrusion
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