Duterte urged to be wary on China talks

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 12 2016 09:55 PM | Updated as of Jul 14 2016 02:37 PM

A boy holds Philippine and Chinese flags during a protest on Tuesday calling for China's exit out of the West Philippine Sea. Nikon Celis, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – Holding one-on-one talks with China over the West Philippine Sea would only prove futile, a senator warned the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Senator Leila de Lima issued the warning in the wake of the Philippines' victory in a case Manila lodged against Beijing over the maritime dispute.

''With this ruling, it is hoped that the present administration will be properly guided in its future actions, especially in its declared bias for bilateral talks which has only proven to be always one-sided in favor of the world power at the other end of the table,'' De Lima said in a statement.

De Lima, a former justice secretary, was part of the Philippine delegation that former President Benigno Aquino III sent to The Hague to participate in the arbitration proceedings.

In filing its arbitration case, the Aquino administration said it had exhausted all means to resolve the bitter sea dispute, including holding direct talks with China. The Aquino government said it saw no point in holding one-on-one talks with China as the latter would not back down on its claims.

The Aquino administration preferred holding multilateral talks with China, wherein other claimants would be involved.

The previous administration said through a multilateral discussion, the Philippines and other smaller sea claimants would be able to put more pressure on China.

A stance unfriendly towards Beijing, however, may now change under the administration of the newly minted Duterte administration.

Even before the the United Nations-backed tribunal came out with its ruling, Duterte had expressed willingness to hold bilateral talks with China.

Appearing to soften Manila's stance, Duterte said in his first Cabinet meeting that he would like to reach a ''soft landing'' with China after the tribunal rules.

Philippine foreign affairs chief Perfecto Yasay also called for "restraint and sobriety" after the tribunal ruled in the Philippines' favor.

PH VICTORY

In a landmark ruling, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration said that there is no legal basis to China's claims to rights across the South China Sea, a vast maritime body believed to contain a significant amount of untapped oil reserves and home to some of the world's most diverse fisheries.

[ READ: Philippines beats China in international court ]

The tribunal said that China's ''historic rights'' and ''nine-dash line'' claim to South China Sea had been extinguished by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) to which both the Philippines and China are signatories.

The tribunal also ruled that the artificial islands that China has been building in the Spratlys, located at the southern portion of the disputed sea, cannot generate a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Thus, the artificial islands built by China near the island of Palawan falls within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

''Accordingly, the Tribunal concluded that none of the Spratly Islands is capable of generating extended maritime zones. The Tribunal also held that the Spratly Islands cannot generate maritime zones collectively as a unit,'' the Tribunal said.

''Having found that none of the features claimed by China was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone, the Tribunal found that it could - without delimiting a boundary - declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China."

The case filed by Manila against Beijing was triggered by a 2012 naval standoff at the contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, a rocky outcrop west of Luzon considered a traditional fishing ground by Filipinos.

Beijing currently controls Scarborough and has been preventing Filipino fishermen from accessing the resources-rich area.

There have been fears that Beijing could also reclaim land on Scarborough in the wake of the unfavorable artbitration ruling.

Beijing, which snubbed the arbitration proceedings, has said it will not follow the tribunal's ruling, even as it faces the risk of being labeled an international outlaw.

While the tribunal is a victory for the Philippines, it may only be considered a moral one as the tribunal has no means of reinforcing its ruling.

The ruling, nonetheless, is considered a blow to Beijing, which is seeking to project itself as a benign superpower.

'RESPECT THE RULING'

Several Filipino senators, meanwhile, welcomed the Philippines' victory and urged China to respect the tribunal's ruling.

''This is a victory not only for the Philippines but more importantly for the Rule of Law," said neophyte senator Joel Villanueva. 

"I call on China to respect the Tribunal's decision and for both parties to work together for our mutual benefit as all neighbors must."

Senator Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, said he hopes the ruling would cause the mending of ties between the two neighbors instead of fueling further tension.

He added, the ruling should also expedite the creation of the formal code of conduct in the South China Sea, which will serve as a binding code for all sea claimants.

''We hope that the decision puts to rest any tension, mend strained relations, and restore goodwill among countries in the region,'' Drilon said. ''ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China can now move forward to finalize the Code of Conduct to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea."

Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, signified no opposition to a possible direct Philippines-China talks. He said the installation of a new Philippine government will give the two countries an elbow room in improving ties.

''The decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration can serve as a reboot in the stalled China-Philippines diplomatic relations. It gives the Philippines a more equal footing in the inevitable bilateral talks with China, who should not lose face,'' Pangilinan said.

''Together with having a new administration, the ruling allows both parties to come to the negotiating table with fresh perspectives. I suggest we remind China of the centuries' old people-to-people interactions between our nations, and of the similar historical indignities we faced as colonies of foreign powers. Of the latter, we can tell them that their occupation of the reefs in the West Philippine Sea resonates to that past."

For Senator Loren Legarda, China not following the ruling would only disrupt the international legal order.

"It serves no valid purpose to further exacerbate the dispute by refusing to heed the decision handed down by Tribunal, for in the end, such refusal to honor its decision will only undermine the primary objective of the UNCLOS - and that is to establish a legal order for the seas to promote its peaceful use," Legarda said.

Countering a Chinese envoy's statement that the ruling is "nothing more than a piece of paper", Senator Grace Poe said: "The Tribunal's ruling is no paper judgment. Our government should exhaust all avenues and encourage full compliance of the decision through peaceful and diplomatic means."

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, meanwhile, lauded the Aquino administration's China policy for the victory.

"The landmark decision of the Arbitral Tribunal is a historic victory for our Country. Equally important is that, based on early reports, it is definitive, categorical and expectedly upheld the provisions of UNCLOS which could help the Duterte Administration in pursuing the next course of action. Lastly, the favorable decision is a vindication of the foreign policy direction of the Aquino administration," he said.