File protest vs China in UN, senators urge
Several senators on Sunday urged the government to take action against China such as filing a diplomatic protest over its threat of war against the Philippines if Manila tried to enforce an arbitration ruling and drill for oil at a reef within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan urged Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to file the diplomatic protest against China two days after President Duterte disclosed the threat.
“Did China really threaten the Philippines with war after President Duterte asserted the Southeast Asian nation’s sovereignty over disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea? If so, then Foreign Secretary Cayetano should issue a diplomatic protest for this threat,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
In remarks that could infuriate China, Mr. Duterte hit back on Friday at domestic critics who said he had gone soft on Beijing by refusing to pressure it to comply with an award last year by the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which ruled largely in favor of the Philippines in a challenge brought by Manila against Beijing’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
Mr. Duterte said he discussed the ruling with Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met in Beijing on Monday, and got a firm but friendly warning.
“We intend to drill oil there. If it’s yours, well, that’s your view. But my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours,” Mr. Duterte said in a speech, recalling his conversation with Xi.
“His response to me, ‘We’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you. We want to maintain the presence of warm relationships, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war,’” Mr. Duterte said.
The President had long expressed his admiration for Xi and said he would raise the arbitration ruling with him eventually, but needed first to strengthen relations between the two countries, which the Philippines was hoping would yield to billions of dollars in Chinese loans and infrastructure investments.
The Hague award clarifies Philippine sovereignty rights in the West Philippine Sea—waters within its 370-kilometer EEZ in the South China Sea—to access offshore oil and gas fields, including Recto Bank (internationally known as Reed Bank), 153 km off its coast.
It also invalidated China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
Pangilinan sought an inquiry into China’s threat by the Senate committees on foreign relations and economic affairs and into the foreign policy direction of the Duterte administration, which he said Sen. Bam Aquino had been calling for since October.
“The hearing should tackle not only this issue, but also details of the $24-billion loans and investments recently sealed with China, as well as the administration’s decision to reject aid from the European Union,” he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed with the call of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Saturday to take China’s threat to the United Nations.
“There is an arbitral ruling favoring us and which cannot be changed anymore. While it may not be enforceable now, there is no denying the fact that UN member nations must respect the decision. If we go back in time and review previous rulings, concerned countries had initially resisted compliance but eventually, they gave up and complied,” Lacson said in a text message.
“Following that argument, it may only be a question of time before China will realize that her position in the [WestPhilippine Sea] is untenable. We therefore need to marshal the support of the community of nations to put pressure on China, and hope that compliance is accelerated in our favor,” he said.
Take it to UN
Carpio, part of the legal team that argued the Philippines’ case against China in the Hague court, suggested that the Philippines bring China’s threat of war to the United Nations General Assembly by sponsoring a resolution condemning the threat and demanding that China comply with the tribunal’s ruling.
China has no veto in the UN general assembly, Carpio said.
Manila could also claim damages from China for the period of delay that the Philippines is prevented from exploiting resources within its EEZ, Carpio said.
Also agreeing with Carpio, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said the government should go to the United Nations, as this is one of the diplomatic and legal options available to the Philippines.
In a phone interview, however, Trillanes said he did not believe the Chinese president had threatened the Philippines with war.
“Duterte has been known to make blatant lies to justify his action. In this case, he justifies his cowardice by surrendering our territorial or sovereign rights on the area,” Trillanes said.
Sen. Richard Gordon said that if indeed Xi threatened war, Mr. Duterte should have told him that he was violating “all international laws.”
“We should use the UN here,” Gordon said in a radio interview.
But he also doubted that Xi had made such a threat, pointing out that Mr. Duterte has a habit of saying something and then taking it back later.
He said he doubted that Mr. Duterte gave an accurate account of his conversation with Xi.
“If he really said that, we go to the UN, we go to the international community … make that manifestation and it’s China against the world,” Gordon said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.