MANILA— The Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration “abandoned” the 2016 arbitral ruling that nullifies China’s expansive claims in the disputed South China Sea, and Filipinos will reap its consequences, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said on Thursday.
In a media forum organized by opposition coalition 1Sambayan, Del Rosario said Duterte’s statement calling the United Nations-backed ruling a piece of “paper” that belonged in the wastebasket, later echoed by Beijing this week, was not surprising.
This is why, he said, Filipinos should consider the issue as important in choosing the country’s leaders in next year’s elections as China continued its “expansionist policy and creeping assertion” in the disputed waters.
“The new president (Duterte) and his administration abandoned the ruling, despite his claims to the contrary, and later on called the ruling ‘a piece of paper to be thrown into the trash can,’” said Del Rosario, who was top diplomat when the Philippines initiated arbitration proceedings against China in 2013.
“It almost happily sounds like China and the Philippines are using the same spokesperson,” he added, referring to Beijing’s statement on the country’s 5-year-old landmark win.
Philippine authorities have repeatedly raised concerns over China's activities in the disputed waters, particularly militarization efforts, which the latter has denied.
The country’s former top diplomat also criticized Duterte’s affection towards China, calling it “unacceptable” to Filipinos for relying on a country that has wanton disregard for the Philippines’ rights in its territory.
“President Duterte was ‘loving’ and embracing China over and above the interest of the country and its people. Instead of standing up for his own people, the president is tyrannically forcing us to be silent against China's encroachment of our territory and maritime entitlements,” he said.
“He whom the people has put in power to be the guardian of our interest, has willingly and unapologetically cast his lots on the very same country that is disrespecting our country and people.”
An analysis by AI-based satellite image analysis firm Simularity earlier this week revealed that the Chinese ships moored at the West Philippine Sea have been dumping untreated human waste into the waters for some 5 years now, which could damage reefs and affect the country’s fish stocks there.
BRINGING WEST PH SEA ISSUE TO FILIPINOS
Amid criticisms that the group 1Sambayan have not communicated their issues to the masses, the opposition coalition said that the lowly but now expensive “galunggong” could be a key issue for Filipinos in the 2022 elections.
The coalition, which seeks to field a common candidate for the opposition and fight for concerns such as sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, said that the country needs a leader who would assert the rights of fisherfolk as well as ordinary Filipinos who consume “galunggong."
1Sambayan convenor Fr. Albert Alejo also said that the group has reached out to various sectors such as the academe and the church to bring the West Philippine Sea issue in a manner more understandable to most Filipinos.
“Kailangang mag-konekta ang ating mga bituka, 'yung mga sinasabi po, sabi ng iba paingglis-ingglis daw sila Justice Carpio pero importante po ito, na ang galunggong at isda sa dagat ang solusyon sa gutom natin dito sa siyudad,” Alejo said.
(We have to connect this to our needs. They say Justice Carpio keeps on speaking English about this but the important thing here is that the fish we have at the West Philippine Sea is the solution to our hunger in the cities.)
1Sambayan’s leading figures on the West Philippine Sea issue, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Del Rosario, stressed that Duterte’s foreign policy have put Filipino fishermen at the losing end.
"Nearly all of our [exclusive economic zone] is impacted by China's incredible 9-dash line claim. In other words, Fiilipino fishermen can only fish exclusively in the 10 percent or 40,000 kilometers of our EEZ... China’s fishermen, on the other hand, based on this preposterous claim, would have equal rights to fish in the other 90 percent or 500,000 kilometers,” del Rosario said.
Carpio reiterated that the Philippines now has to import “galunggong” from China which Chinese fishermen caught in the West Philippine Sea.
“Galunggong is now twice as expensive as chicken,” Carpio said.
Carpio also said that to be able to pivot from a China-centered foreign policy, the new President should be able to rescind all the “unconstitutional” pronouncements made by President Duterte such as allowing Chinese fishermen to scoop fish from the country’s exclusive economic zone.
He also stressed that oil and gas exploration in the area should be under a “cooperation agreement”, making it clear to China or any foreign government that the Philippines owns the gas, oil and other marine resources in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
On Wednesday, Malacañang said “no one can diminish” the country's arbitral victory against China in 2016. This even as Duterte himself had called the ruling a mere piece of paper that belongs to the trash.
- with reports from Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News