PH execs cheer Euro nations’ pushback vs China, but . . .
MANILA, Philippines — Former and incumbent government officials welcomed the note verbale the United Kingdom, France and Germany jointly issued to oppose China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, but remained sharply divided on the next steps to take.
Malacañang expressed its gratitude to the three European nations for backing the 2016 arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines and rejected China’s sweeping maritime claims.
“We thank these nations, because our win in the arbitral ruling that says China has no legal basis to claim the entire South China Sea cannot be erased, and that the historical claims to maritime territories are baseless,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said at a press briefing in Baguio City.
In the joint note verbale submitted to the United Nations on Thursday, the three countries explicitly cited the landmark ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) junking China’s claims under international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
‘Clear international support’
“France, Germany and the United Kingdom also highlight that claims with regard to the exercise of ‘historic rights’ over the South China Sea waters do not comply with international law and Unclos provisions and recall that the arbitral award in the Philippines v. China case dating to 12 July 2016 clearly confirms this point,” the document read.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who led the country’s petition at the PCA, welcomed the note verbale, saying it should spur Manila into action in the UN General Assembly.
“Along with the United States, these European nations confirm our position that there is international support for our country’s lawful rights in our West Philippine Sea, as ruled by the arbitral tribunal in The Hague. The position of France, Germany and the United Kingdom also unequivocally supports the will of the Filipino people, as shown in surveys, that our government should raise the arbitral ruling in the UN General Assembly and other international fora,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
“Given the clear international and domestic support for our arbitral ruling, it is both incomprehensible and disappointing that our government refuses to invoke the arbitral ruling for the sake of the Filipino people. It is our fervent hope that our government will finally listen to its people,” he added.
A warning to China
Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio agreed and stressed the importance of the joint note verbale.
“This serves as a warning to China that it cannot draw straight baselines around distant offshore islands or archipelagos since China is not an archipelagic state. The joint note verbale asserts the rights to innocent passage and to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea in accordance with Unclos,” he said.
“The joint note verbale expressly supporting the arbitral award in favor of the Philippines comes right after the (United States) and Australia issued similar statements of support. The Filipino people should be deeply thankful to these countries for supporting the arbitral award and ensuring that the rule of law will prevail in the oceans and seas of our planet,” Carpio said.
‘Let’s be realistic’
But while Malacañang welcomed the note verbale, it insisted that it would be counterproductive to raise the issue before the UN General Assembly because, Roque argued, the Philippines does not have to assert its claims further because it already won a favorable ruling from the PCA in 2016.
“To say that we need to do more on this is black propaganda. They are saying we should bring it to the UN General Assembly. We can do that, but let’s be realistic. We cannot sway the 197 UN members if our opponent is China. We know the limits of our capacity,” he said.
Roque added: “Money talks in politics. That’s the way it is even in international relations. So we cannot go to the Security Council because China has veto power.”
No enforcer of ruling
He also noted that in international law, there is no police force that can enforce the decision.
“Our options are limited, on the assumption that countries of the world will voluntarily follow their international obligation,” he said.
Roque echoed a position that incumbent Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had repeatedly made in the past: There’s no need to litigate a case that has already been won.
Locsin has not made an official statement on the note verbale as of press time, but he did post a message on Twitter insisting that it was the right decision not to bring the matter to the UN General Assembly.
“I am not gonna lose what our German lawyers—not to mention Noynoy, Del Rosario, Carpio, Jardeleza, (Henry) Bensurto (Jr.) et al.—won just to flatter Johnnies come lately,” Locsin said.
Roque noted that although China does not recognize the ruling, the arbitral court’s decision is “binding” on both the Philippines and China as parties to the territorial dispute.
For now, Roque said, President Duterte—as the architect of foreign policy—has decided to set aside the maritime dispute and pursue bilateral cooperation with China.
“Since there is no resolution to this yet, we will set this aside and pursue what we can like talks on trade and investments,” Roque added.
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