Defense chief apologizes for calling West PH sea ruling an 'empty victory'

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Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 27) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana apologized for saying the ruling favoring the Philippines over disputes in the West Philippine Sea is an "empty victory."

He extended his apologies to former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio. The two helped argue the Philippines' case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague.

"I sincerely apologize to these two great gentlemen for ruffling their feelings when I said that the PCA ruling in our favor is an empty victory. Both have reasons to be miffed for they worked hard to win our case before the PCA. It was not my intention to denigrate their achievement," Lorenzana said in a message to reporters Friday.

Earlier media reports claimed Carpio and Del Rosario did not take Lorenzana's statements well.

But Lorenzana then said that with current realities, the victory claimed is premature and incomplete.

"The phrase 'empty victory' does not pertain to the efforts of Mssrs. Carpio and del Rosario in successfully winning our case in the PCA but rather, to the outcome of the ruling. With the realities on the ground, the victory being claimed is premature and incomplete since the ruling has no enforcement mechanism," he added.

The Defense chief explained that until our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is under the country's complete control, and until the ruling is fully enforced, it remains just "a piece of paper."

"If it is a victory, then why is the (West Philippine Sea) not under our complete control? If we are victorious, why are the Chinese still in the (West Philippine Sea)? Lest we forget, the Malaysians and Vietnamese are also within our exclusive economic zone, occupying many islands which they have improved through the years," he said.

Lorenzana's remark came Monday, after the Social Weather Stations' latest survey showed that 9 of 10 Filipinos deemed important that the Philippines to regain control over island occupied by China in the contested waters.

"We won, but it is an empty victory. The Chinese won't leave our EEZ  and instead it continues to assert its historical rights over the areas within the nine-dash line," he earlier said.

But Lorenzana said how the survey questions were framed might be wrong.

"Many people also need to understand that the PCA ruling was about 'sovereign rights' and not 'sovereignty,' which are two different things," Lorenzana added.

The 2016 ruling junked China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, which overlaps with parts of the country's 200-nautical mile (EEZ). China has refused to observe the international tribunal's ruling.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for his warmer ties with China, but he vowed to protect the country's sovereign rights in his third State of the Nation Address on Monday.

"Our improved relationship  with China does not mean we will waver to defend our interest in the West Philippine Sea," Duterte had said.