MANILA - The decision of former Philippine President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to challenge China's vast claims over almost the entire South China Sea will always be remembered, said the mayor of Kalayaan town in Palawan, where Beijing's incursions continue.
"We will never forget how he confronted China in the international tribunal over the West Philippine Sea issue. Salamat, PNoy!" Mayor Roberto Del Mundo said Friday in a post on the municipality's official Facebook account.
"We join the entire nation in mourning" Aquino's passing, he added.
Aquino, who was President from 2010 until 2016, died in his sleep on Thursday morning due to renal disease secondary to diabetes, according to his sisters. He was 61.
The Aquino administration filed an arbitration case against China in January 2013 at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague after bilateral discussions to peacefully settle the disputes failed.
It came after Chinese intrusions in the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc) in 2012.
The court ruled in July 2016, shortly after Aquino relinquished the presidency to Rodrigo Duterte, that China's nine-dash line claim on the South China Sea, as based on history, has no legal basis.
China did not participate in the arbitration and is not recognizing the decision. Duterte has, meanwhile, shelved the ruling in pursuit of friendlier ties with China. He has called the arbitral decision a mere piece of paper.
The landmark award identified certain features in the Kalayaan Island Group, including some occupied and controlled by China, to be within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, as provided under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In September 2012, Aquino also issued Administrative Order No. 29, naming the maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago as the West Philippine Sea.
The move to seek arbitration is Aquino's "lasting legacy to the Filipino people," retired Supreme Justice and former Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said on Thursday.
"His legacy is the Arbitration decision is permanent."
"We will do him honor, by helping our present President, President Duterte, and future Presidents, chart a durable enforcement mechanism, by joining the present and future debate on enforcement," said Jardeleza.
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