Nene Pimentel: PH should turn to ASEAN, UN on South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 18) — A former Senate President and ally of President Rodrigo Duterte wants a stronger national stance against China, which has ignored an international tribunal ruling that largely favored the Philippines in disputes in the South China Sea.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel advised the government to turn to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and United Nations (UN).

"Ang aking pakay dyan, ASEAN must act together. Kung hindi makuha sa ASEAN, then we go to APEC," Pimentel said regarding Beijing's refusal to acknowledge a 2016 international arbitral tribunal ruling. "Meron pa e. ASEAN, APEC, and then UN na."

[Translation: My take is, ASEAN must act together. If we can't get it at ASEAN, then we go to APEC. There's more. ASEAN, APEC, and then the UN.]

The ruling invalidated China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea, where Beijing has built artifical islands and militarized disputed features. The tribunal recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in areas within the country's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, branding certain activities there by China as illegal.

The sentiments of Pimentel, the founder of the ruling party PDP-Laban, differ from those of his colleagues. Duterte has avoided raising the ruling, repeatedly maintaining that the country cannot afford to go to war with China.

But Pimentel believes the Philippines need not go to war.

"I mean, there are agencies now recognized by the world. Of course China, parang medyo arogante [is a bit arrogant]... they don't seem to care. Pero [But] eventually they will have to," said Pimentel.

He also suggested that countries consider economic sanctions, like boycotting Chinese products.

Pimentel added that raising territorial disputes was one of the subjects discussed by the Consultative Committee (ConCom), of which he is a member. The committee, which is tasked to review the 1987 Constitution, prepared a draft of a federal charter that Pimentel says asserts Philippine claims in the West Philippine Sea and Benham Rise.

The former Senate President also suggested raising the Philippines' historic rights over Sabah to the ASEAN.

EXCLUSIVE: Proposed constitution asserts PH claims over West PH Sea, Sabah

Duterte has exercised warm relations with China, as the eastern giant has promised billions in investments to the country. While the administration has maintained this comes with no strings attached, critics fear that the country could fall into a debt trap or effectively give up its claim on disputed islands.