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Arbitral court ruling ‘empty victory for PH’

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday described as an “empty victory” the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 favoring the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea.

Lorenzana also denied that the country had lost control over any of its territories in the West Philippine Sea to China.

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In a message to reporters — in response to a Social Weather Stations survey, which showed that 87 percent of Filipinos wanted the country to regain control of islands occupied by China in the West Philippine Sea — Lorenzana asked, “Retake what? Did we lose any islands?”

The Chinese, he said, “never took any of our occupied islands. They took over unoccupied reefs and turned them into islands.”

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“China reclaimed several underwater reefs that are now islands,” he said.

Lorenzana insisted that the military was still in control of the nine Philippine-claimed islands in the disputed region.

Aquino lost Panatag

He reiterated President Rodrigo Duterte’s assertion that the Philippines lost Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal to the Chinese in 2012, during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

“No island belonging to us [was] ever lost during the time of President Duterte. While Panatag is under the effective control of the Chinese, our fishermen can fish in the area,” Lorenzana said.

“Panatag Shoal, thanks to the arbitral ruling, is now the fishing ground not exclusively of Filipinos but of Chinese, Vietnamese and Taiwanese as well,” he added.

It was only through the President’s talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Lorenzana said, that Filipino fishermen can now fish again in Panatag Shoal and the Armed Forces to resupply troops on our occupied islands “without interference.”

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‘No enforcement’

Lorenzana also claimed that the only action the Aquino administration did was to go to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which is “not under the UN (United Nations) and does not have [an] enforcement mechanism.”

“We won, but it is an empty victory. The Chinese won’t leave our EEZ (exclusive economic zones) and instead [they] continue to assert [their] historical rights over the areas within the nine-dash line,” the defense chief said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also came to the administration’s defense, saying the military was doing something about China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea — though not everything was being made public.

“I don’t know if I’m authorized to say so, but I know for a fact that the government, the Armed Forces, are addressing it but they are not informing the public. It is better that we do not discuss it,” he told Senate reporters.

Engaging China

According to Sotto, the government was quietly taking action to protect Philippine interests while also publicly engaging China through diplomacy.

“It’s better not to have enemies. In our world now where globalization is all over, we cannot afford to have enemies. As they say, when people talk, the guns are silent,” he said.

He also said he was amenable to the call of the Senate minority for a hearing on the government’s actions in the West Philippine Sea.

“But there are things that I think should be asked during an executive session,” Sotto said.

Beijing has been relentless in its activities in the disputed waters despite the 2016 ruling of the PCA that junked its claim to nearly all of the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea.

The President has been cultivating a friendship with China and has put the decision of the arbitral tribunal on the back burner in exchange for loans and economic assistance.

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TAGS: Delfin Lorenzana, maritime dispute, Permanent Court of Arbitration, Rodrigo Duterte, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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