Palace says arbitral ruling on South China Sea row 'useless' for now

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 20) — An international arbitral tribunal's ruling that recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea is "useless" for now since it cannot be enforced, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday.

"The arbitral ruling cannot be taken away from us. It will be there forever. But meanwhile, who will enforce it? There is no power on earth presently that can enforce it. The United Nations cannot. The U.S. cannot. Who will enforce it?" Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Malacañang press briefing.

When asked if it makes the landmark decision useless, Panelo said, "as of now, yes."

"For purposes of enforcement [it is useless] but psychologically, it benefits us. Because as far as the world is concerned, this (West Philippine Sea) is ours, not theirs (China)," Panelo added.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in July 2016 recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, or areas of the South China Sea that lie within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone. China, however, rejects the ruling and continues to claim virtually the entire global waterway - parts of which are contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, and Taiwan.

Panelo said, "There must be a collective action by the countries of the world to either persuade or pressure China into respecting the arbitral decision."

Questions about the South China Sea dispute dominated the Malacañang press briefing shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in the country for a two-day state visit.

Panelo said Duterte "could raise" the dispute in his meetings with the Chinese President. Xi's visit is marked with protests as Duterte has been criticized for pursuing friendlier ties with China despite the East Asian giant's alleged militarization in the disputed region. Duterte refused to bring the arbitral ruling up with China - saying the Philippines cannot afford to go to war against it - but he promised to raise it within his term.

READ: 84% of Filipinos reject gov't inaction vs. China on West Philippine Sea – survey

Panelo said Duterte will one day ask China to "respect the decision because right now they are not respecting it. They are using might."

Panelo, however, also argued that the President has been using "another tact to get things that he wants to get from [China] through negotiation."

Duterte said he will do everything he can to lead the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China into signing a Code of Conduct (COC) defining what states can and cannot do in the contested waters, within the Philippines' term as country coordinator for relations between the region and Beijing.  The Philippines' term ends in 2021, a year before Duterte is supposed to step down as president.