Former top official: Duterte needs more briefing on South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 9) — President Rodrigo Duterte needs "more help" in understanding the South China Sea dispute, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Friday.

"There appears to be an urgent need for our President to require a fuller briefing from his people as shown, for instance, by his reactions to developments in South China Sea and, in particular, the West Philippine Sea," del Rosario said in a statement.

The West Philippine Sea areas lie within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the country, as stated in the July 2016 arbitral ruling.

Del Rosario said Duterte should consider consulting with Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, whose expertise on the South China Sea "is clearly unequalled."

Carpio was part of the Philippine delegation to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that argued for and won the country's case against China.

"Our President may want to consider having his people closely coordinate with the Acting Chief Justice on matters related to the South China Sea," Del Rosario said.

Carpio on Friday said the Philippines can file another case against China at the international arbitral tribunal over the alleged harassment of Filipinos fishing in Scarborough Shoal located within the Philippines' EEZ.

Del Rosario urged the Duterte government to work on submitting a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly requesting China and the international community "to abide and implement" the arbitral ruling.

China has refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling and continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea. Duterte has repeatedly said the country cannot afford to go to war against China, but he promised to bring up the arbitral ruling with the East Asian giant during his term.

Why Duterte needs briefing

Del Rosario cited several instances when Duterte showed lack of understanding on the South China Sea and the Philippines' overlapping claims with China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

"The most recent illustration was the harassment of Philippine troops in Ayungin Shoal, of which the President had no knowledge," del Rosario said.

Duterte, in a June 6 press briefing, said he was not aware of the Chinese Navy's harassment of Filipino troops on Ayungin Shoal off Palawan.

This contradicts an earlier statement made by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano saying Duterte "had strong instructions" and the country filed a diplomatic protest citing the incident.

Del Rosario also expressed concern over Duterte's downplay of the country's loss of control over Sandy Cay, a disappearing sand bar, west of Pag-asa Island in the South China Sea.

"Our President seemed to dismiss Sandy Cay as merely a sand bar, not worth protesting," Del Rosario said.

He echoed Carpio's earlier statement that "if China acquires sovereignty over Sandy Cay, it can now claim Subi Reef as part of the territorial sea of Sandy Cay, legitimizing China's claim over Subi Reef and removing Subi Reef from the continental shelf of the Philippines."