MANILA-- Presidential spokesman Harry Roque questioned Thursday the qualifications of the country's former top diplomat Albert del Rosario to dictate on President Rodrigo Duterte's foreign policy after the retired official urged the chief executive to “get the support of more countries” on Manila's assertion of its rights in the West Philippine Sea.
Del Rosario made the call after Duterte raised before the United Nations the Philippines' arbitral victory against China on the South China Sea.
"Si Secretary Del Rosario, he is a Filipino, he is entitled to speak. Pero, parang hindi po maganda na dinidiktihan niya ang Presidente," Roque said.
(Sec. Del Rosario is a Filipino. He is entitled to speak. But dictating on the President is not good.)
"Hindi ko po alam kung ano ang special qualification niya para diktahan niya ang isang Presidente," he added.
(I don't know what special qualification he has for him to dictate on a President.)
Duterte, in his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, said the Philippines "firmly rejects" any attempt to undermine the 2016 award that invalidated China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea.
Beijing's claims over the sea overlap those of the Philippines', as well as of Brunei's, Malaysia's, Vietnam's, and Taiwan's. Manila calls the portion of the South China Sea it claims as West Philippine Sea.
CALL FOR ACTION
“The next step is for our President and his administration to put in reality the invocation of the arbitral award,” Del Rosario had said, a view shared by other lawmakers and advocates of the country's sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement Thursday, Cong. Rufus Rodriguez, from Cagayan de Oro City, urged Duterte to “walk the talk” and support his invocation of the arbitral ruling “with concrete and consistent actions.”
“We can for instance continue to rally regional and international support for the ruling. We can also increase patrols in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where some Chinese-occupied features the arbitral court had ruled as belonging to the Philippines under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea are located,” Rodriguez said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, for his part, said, "Duterte’s affirmation of the Philippines’ arbitral victory must not remain a verbal bubble but needs to be concretized in an enforcement action with the backing of the United Nations and the support of multilateral powers."
"We hope he will match these strong words with actions to include bringing the matter officially before the UN, as well as seeking support from our ASEAN allies such as Indonesia and Vietnam who have stood up to China and opposed its aggression in the disputed waters," Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.
Roque said Del Rosario, who led the Philippines' arbitration case against China during the presidency of Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, should think about his accomplishments as foreign affairs chief before he speaks about Duterte's next move.
"All I can say is, mag-isip-isip muna tayo kung ano ang qualification natin para diktahan natin ang isang sitting President na hinalal po ng taumbayan," Roque said.
(All I can say is, think about what makes you qualified to dictate on a sitting president elected by the public.)
DAVID AND GOLIATH
Manila's arbitration case against the world's second most powerful nation, initiated in 2013, has been likened to the David and Goliath story.
Consistent with its non-participation in the arbitration proceeding in The Hague, China, which prefers to settle issues bilaterally, continues to ignore the ruling.
Calls for China's compliance have been persistent, amid a lack of a mechanism for the decision's enforcement. As with the Philippines, China is a signatory to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which allows arbitration as means to resolve maritime disputes.
While Duterte's speech during the UNGA has been praised by both his critics and allies, Roque noted the president's statement on the South China Sea issue was simply a reiteration of the government's existing policies and positions.
"Wala naman pong bagong polisiyang binanggit ang ating Presidente," Roque said.
(The President did not mention any new policy.)
"I don’t think it was a strong message. It was a restatement of an old, existing policy," he said.
- with reports from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News