‘Not raising arbitral ruling again means accepting China is above rule of law’

Eimor Santos, CNN Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte may not bring up ever again the Philippines’ arbitration win against China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, even after Beijing’s continued rejection of the ruling. A former diplomat said this would be “so wrong.”

“For the Philippines to have been asked to agree that it will not bring up the issue again is to effectively accept without equivocation that China is above the rule of law,” Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement Saturday.

“The arbitral tribunal outcome is now an integral part of international law. This should have been the setting between the two presidents in Beijing,” he added.

As promised three years ago, Duterte finally raised the arbitral ruling with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting in Beijing on Thursday. According to the Palace, Duterte asserted that the arbitral award is “final, binding and not subject to appeal.”

But as expected, Xi reiterated his government’s position of not recognizing the arbitral ruling, which is based on the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea. Both the Philippines and China signed this treaty in 1982 and 1994, respectively.

When asked if Duterte would bring the matter up again in his remaining three years in office, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said it is not likely.

“I don’t think you need to raise it because they said they will continue with the peaceful dialogue in resolving the issue while they are concentrating on other areas of concern that would be mutually beneficial to both countries,” Panelo said in a media briefing in Beijing.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Panelo said Duterte and Xi “agreed to disagree.”

Del Rosario, however, stressed that Duterte’s failure to raise the arbitration ruling in the future “would be a betrayal of the trust we have placed in our governance.” Duterte earlier faced an impeachment complaint for his supposedly defeatist stance on the South China Sea dispute, but this was junked at the House committee level.

Del Rosario urged the administration to “prepare a strategy” for taking the case to the United Nations. “It will take time and hard work, but we must do this for the sake of our many generations to come,” he said.

Malacañang said this is not an option as it chooses to resolve the issues bilaterally.

“I think the President is very smart enough, he handling the conflict quite effectively. Those who may want to use other methods, I guess they have to run for the Presidency and be President and then apply what they want,” Panelo said.

Duterte has been criticized for pursuing friendly ties with China despite its incursions in the West Philippine Sea. Duterte visited China for the fifth time, following government protests over the passage of Chinese warships in Philippine waters and the controversial sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel. Duterte and Xi agreed to exercise self-restraint in the contested waters, according to Panelo.

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