PH stands pat on setting aside arbitration win as other nations reject Beijing’s South China Sea claim

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 18) — The Philippine government will not budge on its policy of shelving its arbitral victory in the maritime dispute against China, even as major European powers have brought the issue to the United Nations.

In an online media briefing on Friday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines acknowledged France, Germany, and the United Kingdom for backing Manila’s arbitration win, but said there was no need for it.

Nagpapasalamat po tayo sa suporta pero (We are grateful for the support but)… the arbitral award is binding on the parties thereto,” said Roque, a professor of international law.

The three countries recently filed a joint note verbale stressing that Beijing's historical claims to almost the entire South China Sea violate international law, as ruled by an international tribunal in the case filed by the Philippines. The landmark ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration recognized Manila’s sovereign rights to areas within its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, invalidating China's sweeping claim. 

The Philippines and China maintain they “agree to disagree” on the decision to make way for cooperation. Manila lodged several diplomatic protests over China's incursions in the West Philippine Sea, but experts have called on the government to take the fight to the United Nations to compel the East Asian giant to recognize the arbitral ruling.

READ: Latest diplomatic protest ‘won’t affect’ PH-China ties – Malacañang

Administration officials have repeatedly rejected these calls. Roque said the government is just being “realistic,” insisting that the Philippines could not get majority support in the 193-member UN.

Sa international law po unfortunately wala tayong pulis na mapupuntahan para mapatupad yang desisyon,” Roque said. “Black propaganda po ‘yan na meron pa tayong ibang dapat gawin.”

[Translation: In international law, unfortunately, there’s no police we can go to in order to enforce the decision. It’s black propaganda that we can still do something else.]

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin, Jr. also said he believes the backing of three countries is not enough to win what he perceives as a numbers game in the U.N.

“Imagine if I had brought the matter up in the U.N. General Assembly where numbers talk and not right as suggested by idiots,” he said in a tweet.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy stays – the country will set disputes aside and pursue trade and other forms of cooperation with China, Roque said.

Roque refuted criticisms on the President's soft stance on the dispute, saying the government had completed “the act of being assertive” when it filed an arbitration case against China during the previous administration.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in a statement said “it is both incomprehensible and disappointing” that the government refuses to invoke the arbitral ruling despite "clear international and domestic support."

Del Rosario, along with former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales filed a complaint against Chinese officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for illegal actions in the South China Sea.

The ICC said this may be outside its jurisction, but a response has been filed to push the case forward, with retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio joining the fight.