Duterte told: No need for war to assert maritime rights in South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 28)— Countries, including the Philippines, do not need to go to war to assert sovereign rights amid the maritime dispute with China, former and present officials told President Rodrigo Duterte.

Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, reacting to Duterte’s remarks during Monday’s State of the Nation Address, said even neighboring nations have been standing up to the East Asian giant without resorting to arms.

“A country does not need to go to war to assert its sovereign rights. There are lawful and peaceful means of asserting sovereign rights,” Carpio, a vocal critic of the administration’s stance on the maritime dispute, said in a statement. He noted that other countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia have been doing their part in their respective maritime zones.

“War is not even option because the UN (United Nations) Charter outlaws resort to war to settle territorial or maritime disputes,” he added.

In his penultimate SONA, Duterte again stressed he cannot afford to go to war against Beijing over the South China Sea dispute, calling himself "inutile" in that aspect. Duterte also claimed China is “in possession of the property”— apparently referring to disputed sea features that China has transformed into artificial islands and currently occupies.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon echoed the sentiment, saying that if Vietnam can assert its rights, so can the Philippines.

“I would like to think that a country like Vietnam whose stage of development is similar to ours is able to assert their right over the disputed South China Sea effectively without resorting to arms,” Drilon said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source.

“I would like to think that given the geo-political situation, presenting our case before world opinion is something that we can do,” he added.

A 2016 ruling an arbitral tribunal in The Hague invalidated China's sweeping claims to the South China Sea. It also recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone where China has built artificial islands, prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing, and interfered in petroleum exploration.

READ: DFA chief says PH arbitral win on West Philippine Sea ‘non-negotiable,’ as country marks 4th year of Hague ruling

Despite the continuous pleas for the world giant to honor the award, China continues to reject the ruling, saying the tribunal’s decision favoring the Philippines is “illegal and invalid.”

Unacceptable?

Some of Drilon’s colleagues in the upper chamber also slammed Duterte’s apparent “surrender” to China, as officials continue to push for the upholding of the country's sovereign rights.

“The subservience and surrender to China is detestable, unacceptable. He does not speak for me and many other Filipinos who see in this defeatist attitude cowardice towards the aggressor,” opposition Senator Kiko Pangilinan said.

Senator Ping Lacson, on the other hand, stressed that the Philippines is not “inutile” as a country.

“Being weak is weakness enough but to let our adversary know how helpless we are will discourage even our allies to stand by our side,” Lacson said.

CNN Philippines' Alyssa Rola and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.