MANILA - "A big disappointment."
This was how an expert on the law of the sea described the failure of the Philippines to lead discussions on the South China Sea disputes during this year's Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.
Professor Jay Batongcal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the Philippines was expected to initiate discussions on the sea disputes as the summit chairman.
"Malaking disappointment, especially para sa ASEAN, na 'yung ating chairmanship, kung kailan tayo inaasahan na maging lider sa issue na ito, parang umatras tayo," Batongcal told DZMM on Sunday.
(It's a big disappointment, especially for the ASEAN. As this year's chairman, the Philippines is expected to lead discussions on this issue, but it seemed like took a step back.)
Batongbacal also laments the fact that President Rodrigo Duterte believes discussing the sea disputes at the ASEAN summit is pointless, when the issue affects the whole region.
ASEAN member countries who are claimants in the South China Sea disputes include Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
"Four of the claimants are ASEAN members, tapos 'yung maritime area na ito is in the heart of ASEAN... 'Yung pinakagitana ng South East Asian region nate-take over na ng China. Paanong mangyayari na hindi na ito issue?" he said.
(Four of the claimants are ASEAN members and the maritime area affected is in the heart of ASEAN. The center of the ASEAN region is being taken over by China. How come this is a non-issue?)
Batongbacal also said the President failed to see the connection between the arbitral tribunal ruling and the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
He said the arbitral tribunal ruling and the COC both addresses common concerns of ASEAN member countries in the South China Sea.
"Yung arbitration, although hindi niya nireresolba 'yung sovereignty disputes, ang nireresolba niya ay 'yung mga karapatan ng claimants sa labas ng disputed sovereign areas... 'Yun din ang main subject ng 'Code of Conduct,'" said Batongbacal.
The professor added that the arbitral tribunal ruling could also be the legal basis of the COC. He said diplomatic agreements such as the COC should have legal backing.
"Sa award nandoon ang batas e. Nandoon ang legal principles na applicable sa sea areas. Habang 'yung 'Code of Conduct' na 'yan ay hindi purely legal document dahil 'yan ay diplomatic. Pero siyempre babase din dapat 'yan sa legal principles," he said
The ASEAN chairman's statement released on Sunday made no mention China's arbitration loss and its militarization and land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea.
The statement, however, "reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation and over-flight in and above the South China Sea."
Batongbacal believes that China fears a united ASEAN stance in the South China Sea disputes. But with what happened in the ASEAN summit, he said China scored a point.
"Ang kinatatakutan ng China ay isang united approach sa South China Sea," he said.
"Lahat ng observers na nababasa ko ngayong umaga, ganoon nga ang sinasabi. Panalong-panalo ang China dito," he added.
(China is afraid of a united approach in the South China Sea disputes. All the other observers I've read this morning are saying the same thing. China is winning here.)