Diplomatic protest vs China 'better late than never', says ex-DFA chief

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 02 2019 09:58 AM

MANILA - Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Tuesday said the diplomatic protest allegedly filed by the Philippines against China over the presence of vessels near Pag-asa Island in the South China Sea is a good first step.

"I don't know how long this condition has been existing but on the basis of our observation I think it's coming a bit too late. But, nevertheless, better late than never," Del Rosario said on ANC's Headstart.

On Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said he was told by the military that a protest has been filed through the foreign affairs department.

In a statement read by Del Rosario on the show, he said that the Philippines continues to face unlawful actions from China whom they described as "modern-day Goliath", and whose intention and activities are to force a doctrine of dominance and control in the region and beyond.

"Not withstanding our victory at The Hague which clarifies our entitlements in the South China Sea, Beijing continues to degrade the marine environment by the illegal artificial island building, militarization agenda, and to bully, harass our hardworking fishermen," he read.

He said China's activities affect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Filipino fishermen in South China Sea while diminishing food security. 

Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales both believe that they have found a legal platform through the International Criminal Court (ICC) to exact accountability for what they said was injustice suffered by poor fishermen. 

"It is our objective to hold responsible President Xi Jinping, Foreign Secretary Wang Yee and Ambassador Zhao Jianhua for crimes against humanity," Del Rosario read from their statement.

Last week, the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported the presence of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island, the second largest naturally occurring island in the disputed sea, noting that these were very near the Philippine island and are almost stationary.

Over 600 Chinese vessels have been circling Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) in the West Philippine Sea since January this year, the military said.

Ambassador Zhao on Monday downplayed the group's move to bring to the ICC President Xi Jinping, saying the communication was a "fabrication" that will not prosper. 

Morales said there was no motive behind the filing of the information except to help Filipino fishermen. "No one seems to be taking cudgels for them," she said. 

The Philippines officially withdrew from the ICC last March 17. But according to Morales, it is immaterial whether or not the subject of their communication belongs to a country which is a member of the Rome Statute. 

"What is material is that person committed a crime within the territory of the Philippines which is a member of the Rome Statute," she said.

Morales said there is no timetable on when the preliminary investigation would start.

"Given the fact that we just filed this recently, we cannot predict when they are going to consider the request for an examination," she said.

While there's a chance that China would once again ignore the communication, given that in the past, they refused to accept the decision of the international tribunal invalidating its expansive claim to the South China Sea and has instead continue with its construction activities in the artificial islands, Del Rosario still believes in the ICC's enforcive mechanism.

"There are 123 countries that the Chinese officials cannot visit, lest they be arrested and sent back to The Hague for trial or for serving out their sentence," he said.

He further added that the communication they sent to the ICC has a life of its own.

"It will continue to seek charges as we had contemplated and there would be judgement at the end of the day. They either have to pay penalty, do restitution, they have to be in prison if that's what is called for...there's hope," he said.