MANILA (UPDATE) -- Former top-ranking government officials are urging President Rodrigo Duterte to assert before world leaders in September the Philippines' arbitral win on the South China Sea, calling it the will of the Filipino people.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, in a joint statement, said this would be Duterte's penultimate chance to raise the country's legal victory against China at the international assembly before his term ends in 2022.
"There is no politics here—only our will to do what is right, to protect what is ours and to defend ourselves against the persistent bullying and duplicity by China," reads their statement released ahead of the 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Sept. 15.
"We should all unite to give to our people the Philippines they truly deserve under the rule of law. By winning the case against China, the Philippines has the strongest position among all nations to bring the South China Sea issue to the fore," it added.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague upheld in 2016 the Philippines’ sovereign rights to its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), rejecting China’s historic claim to resources in the South China Sea using its 9-dash line doctrine.
China has claimed large parts of the South China Sea and is ramping up its militarization activities in the resource-rich waterway. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have competing claims in the vital sea lane.
Raising the Philippines' landmark award to the UN, which will see a "slimmed-down" gathering as world leaders stay away from New York due to the coronavirus pandemic, is also not relitigating the case, the 3 officials added, rejecting the statement of the country's current top diplomat.
"With due respect, we do not fully agree with the opinion of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. that 'we won it already. Why would you want to relitigate something that you won?'” they said.
"Bringing the arbitral ruling to the UNGA is not relitigating the case. It is enforcing what we already won. As international law does not have a world policeman, it is up to us to enforce the arbitral ruling by rallying other countries to our lawful position. If we do not help ourselves, how can we expect other countries to help us?" the three added.
For them, it will also be the country's second to last opportunity to rally support from other countries, as "the odds are stacked against China in this dispute."
"If the arbitral ruling is raised this year, we are enabled to work multilaterally and bilaterally in preparation for UNGA 2021 when our chances will have significantly been improved," they said.
The independent tribunal, the officials said, was established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. More than a hundred countries are signatories to the international treaty, including the Philippines and China.
"In the long run, how can 145 littoral states of 193 UN member nations vote against their national interests by going against UNCLOS, which grants them considerable maritime areas and resources they previously did not enjoy?" they said.
"How can naval powers like the US, UK, France and others not support UNCLOS, which upholds their freedom of navigation and overflight around the world? This simple logic should not be lost on us."
Del Rosario, Morales and Carpio stressed that 8 out of 10 Filipinos wanted the government to assert the country's rights over the strategic waterway.
"Our government must listen to its people. We therefore appeal to our country’s leadership to kindly be there for us," they said.
Since Duterte took office in 2016, around the time the ruling was handed down, the President has adopted a friendly approach to the Asian superpower in pursuit of improved economic ties.
China refuses to acknowledge the ruling 4 years on.
Left-leaning group Bayan Muna supported the proposal of the former government officials and also challenged Duterte to file a resolution before the UN General Assembly urging the international body to "supervise the complete demilitarization of the South China Sea."
"It is almost certain that majority of the UN members will vote for the complete demilitarization of the South China Sea recognizing that China threatens international peace with its military expansionism in the region and will not allow for a peaceful resolution of the dispute if it maintains military superiority in the South China Sea," Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said in a statement.
"We urge other disputant countries such as Vietnam to support the Philippine resolution and generate votes with the General Assembly."
Zarate cited Article 35 of the UN Charter, which states any of its members “may bring any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute."
"We do not agree to the position of China that the resolution of the dispute is through China’s bilateral negotiation with each disputant country, as what China is doing with the Philippines today. This is a divide and rule tactic that ensures China’s superiority in the negotiating table," he said.
The UN recently supervised the demilitarization of various conflict areas such as Africa and doing the same in South China Sea will get the support of many countries, according to Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares.
Colmenares urged Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to demand from Duterte to "abandon his submissive attitude to China and chart an independent foreign policy."
"We continue to condemn Pres. Duterte’s kowtowing foreign policy with China," he said.