The camp of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Thursday hit back at her successor Benigno Aquino III's administration, holding it accountable for instability over the South China Sea and China's island-building spree in the disputed waters.
Arroyo, her legal counsel Estelito Mendoza, and former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita appeared in a press conference to launch Mendoza's primer on the laws of the sea titled "The Ocean Space or Maritime Area of the Philippines."
In his remarks, Mendoza, Arroyo's defense lawyer in the plunder case she just won at the Supreme Court, maintained that it was the Aquino administration's arbitral case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration that triggered China's island building spree in the disputed waters.
The Philippines scored a landmark victory against China in July last year as the arbitral tribunal invalidated Beijing's nine-dash line claim over almost all of the South China Sea.
China has ignored the ruling, asserting "indisputable sovereignty" over the waters. It has stepped up militarization and reclamation efforts in the waters.
"As I said, I do not know the reason that claim was filed so I cannot say it is right or it is wrong. What I can only say is that as far as China is concerned, it says it provoked their island building factory," said Mendoza, who served as Justice Secretary and Solicitor General to late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and
"Even if they (China) have taken over the islands, they were not used as fortresses or fortified for any armed action or naval activity," he added.
Arroyo, who was sent to jail by Aquino over corruption allegations arising from her 9-year presidency, emphasized that the structures were built during the term of her successor.
Mendoza added that the arbitral case turned out to be a "very significant event" to China since it prompted the latter to ramp up construction activities.
"During the Aquino administration, so in effect we were fighting in the Hague, maybe we were winning in the Hague, but China outflanked us and China made it a point that while we were winning in the Hague, China was winning in the waters of the South China Sea," he said.
Mendoza said this was far from the climate during the Arroyo's administration, where there was "not just peace and quiet" but also "a cooperative effort not only [between the] Philippines and China but including Vietnam."
Vietnam is among six parties claiming part of the waters.
Mendoza also credited the Arroyo administration for passing Republic Act 9522, which defined the country's baselines upon which the country's maritime claims were based.
Both Mendoza and Arroyo maintained that her administration's Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking with China and Vietnam showed cooperation between China and the Philippines was possible.
"There was, during that time, a joint seismic survey which was a joint effort of the Philippines, China, and Vietnam that meant the cost of the survey was borne by the three countries, with the understanding that the results or information that will be gathered will be shared [among] the three countries," he said.