MANILA— President Rodrigo Duterte still has a "final chance" to raise China's continued incursions in the West Philippine Sea at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), former foreign affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said on Wednesday.
In a statement, Del Rosario urged the President to make a "follow-through" to the 2016 The Hague ruling disregarding Beijing's expansive "nine-dash line" claim over the resource-rich South China Sea.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, where Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia also have overlapping claims.
Duterte in May called the arbitral victory a piece of "paper" that belonged to the waste basket.
"President Duterte has one last chance to bring our case in earnest to the UN General Assembly and, equally important, to consolidate the support of the international community for the Award," Del Rosario said.
"This is President Duterte’s opportunity to demonstrate that he loves his fellow countrymen more than he loves Xi Jinping," he added.
The 76th UN General Assembly is slated from September 14 to 21 this year in New York. The UNGA is where high-level general debate of the international body happens.
During the UN assembly last year, Duterte asserted the Philippines’ victory in the 2016 ruling on the South China Sea and rejected attempts undermining it.
“The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Seas) and the 2016 Arbitral Award,” he had said.
But Del Rosario called it as just a mere "lip service."
"There was absolutely no follow-through in terms of the specific steps that need to be taken to enforce the Award," he said.
"Part of the follow-through is making use of all available instruments of the UN including the filing of UNGA resolutions which would allow a general debate or the referral to a particular UN Committee for further discussion."
An analysis by AI-based satellite image analysis firm Simularity earlier this month 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.
'ABSENCE OF RIGHTFUL INTENT'
Del Rosario said there was "absence of rightful intent" in the issue, the effects of which are being felt by ordinary Filipinos.
He also reiterated that Duterte "sold out our nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity to China" which was why there is something that people should do about it.
"Our fishermen... are basically cut off from their livelihood as Chinese vessels drive them from our seas," he said.
"Chinese trawlers are wantonly getting the fish in the traditional fishing grounds of Filipinos— probably encouraged by President Duterte’s illegal verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping which allows the Chinese to fish in the West Philippine Sea."
Duterte, who assumed office only a few days before the victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration was promulgated in July 2016, temporarily shelved the ruling to forge friendlier relations with China in favor of economic assistance and investments.
There have been growing fears that the South China Sea could become a flashpoint between Beijing and Washington, with both conducting regular military exercises there as Beijing asserts its maritime claims more aggressively and Washington focuses its defense strategy on countering China in the region.
The Philippines has filed several diplomatic protests against China but its incursions into the country's EEZ continued.