MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday told the United Nations that no "willful disregard" by any country "can diminish" a 5-year-old arbitral award that junked Beijing's sweeping claims to the South China Sea, including parts of Philippines waters.
Duterte said the 2016 ruling by the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration and the 1982 UNCLOS that recognized states' exclusive economic zones "provide a clear path towards a just, fair, and win-win solution for all."
"The award must be seen for what it is — a benefit across the board to all who subscribe to the majesty of the law," the Philippine leader said in a recorded message to the UN General Assembly.
"No amount of willful disregard by any country, however big and powerful, can diminish the arbitral award’s importance," Duterte said in his 15-minute speech.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that Beijing had no historic title over the South China Sea, as it claims.
It also said China had interfered with traditional Philippine fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and breached the Philippines' sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank, which is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
China has snubbed the ruling, while Duterte pursued friendly ties with the economic superpower and shelved the ruling as he pursued investment and infrastructure funding from Beijing.
Video courtesy of RTVM
In May, Duterte said the arbitral ruling was a piece of "paper" that could be thrown into the wastebasket.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian, on the fifth anniversary of the ruling in July, said the award was "illegal, null and void," adding "it is nothing more than a piece of wastepaper."
China maintains a constant presence of coastguard and fishing boats in the South China Sea to assert its claim of sovereignty, including hundreds in the Spratly islands, where the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia also have claims.
Duterte told the General Assembly the South China Sea needed to remain "a sea of peace, security and prosperity."
"We must resolve disputes peacefully," said the President.
"The Philippines is one with the ASEAN and other stakeholders in ensuring that the South China Sea remains a sea of peace, security and prosperity," he added.
"The 1982 UNCLOS and the 2016 arbitral award of the South China Sea provide a clear path towards a just, fair, and win-win solution for all.
In last year's General Assembly, his first, Duterte had rejected what he called attempts to undermine the Philippines’ arbitral victory.
— With a report from Reuters