MANILA -- The Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday approved the designation of Enrique Manalo as the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Manalo, 70, is the first career diplomat to serve as DFA chief in two decades, according to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who sponsored his appointment before the CA plenary.
During the CA panel's hearing on his nomination, Manalo was questioned by Sagip Partylist Rep. Rodante Marcoleta about the 2016 arbitral award that invalidated China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea, within which is the West Philippine Sea.
"Could you tell us the claims of China that were invalidated by the arbitral ruling?" asked Marcoleta.
"Well, the main claim of China which was invalidated was the 9-dash line, where China basically claimed all (of the South China Sea)," Manalo replied.
"Yes, that's the one. What (are the) others? Because you said, 'the various claims of China in the South China Sea'," said Marcoleta.
"Well, China was claiming then occupied certain islands or rocks that they were also entitled to exclusive economic zones of 200 miles, which were completely invalidated by the ruling," answered Manalo.
"That is not correct," Marcoleta quipped. "You are not telling us the correct answer, Mr. Secretary."
"The arbitral ruling did not invalidate the territorial claims of China in the Spratlys. You know that there are 100 features in the Spratlys. And the only decisions made by the arbitral ruling (were) only (for) eight of those features. Do you know that, Mr. Secretary?" the lawmaker continued.
"The question is, did the arbitral ruling invalidate the possession, the territorial claims of China in those features? That is the question," said Marcoleta.
Manalo responded that the ruling did not address the claims.
"That is the problem... Wala siyang (arbitral court) jurisdiction over territories. Ang jurisdiction niya, per the position of the Philippines, is only to consider a declaration whether or not the nine-dash line is consistent with UNCLOS," said Marcoleta.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration, in its July 12, 2016 decision, ruled on the status of some features in the South China Sea, as well as on Chinese activities there impacting the marine environment and Filipino fishermen.
Then Supreme Court Associate Justice and former Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, who took part in the case, had enumerated the following findings of the tribunal:
- the 9-dash line is contrary to UNCLOS, and has no basis in law
- Scarborough Shoal and 5 other reefs named in the Philippine submission are rocks that generate no entitlements to an EEZ, or continental shelf
- Scarborough Shoal has been a traditional fishing ground for fishermen of many nationalities, and that China has unlawfully prevented Filipino fishermen from engaging in traditional fishing in Scarborough Shoal
- Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank are submerged at high tide, form part of the EEZ and continental shelf of the Philippines, and not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China
- Reed Bank is an entirely submerged reef formation that cannot give rise to maritime entitlements
- China has violated its obligations under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to protect and preserve the marine environment
- China has engaged in the construction of artificial islands, installations, and structures at Mischief Reef without the authorization of the Philippines
Asked by Estrada about his willingness to protect the country's sovereign territory against any foreign intrusions, Manalo said, "Yes, your Honor, of course."
The DFA chief was also asked about the Sabah issue, human rights, the situation in Ukraine, and the case of Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, CA member Johnny Pimentel, a Surigao del Sur Representative, asked Manalo about his health status and fitness to serve as the top diplomat.
Based on his medical records, the secretary has minimal streaky fibrosis, a history of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and asthma, among others.
Manalo said some of his supposed illnesses are "medically insignificant" and do not prevent him from performing his functions.
Prior to becoming DFA chief, Manalo was the country's permanent representative to the United Nations, a post he held since 2020, and was DFA's undersecretary for policy in 2016.
He is no stranger to the post, after he was appointed as the agency's acting secretary from March 9 to May 17, 2017.
- with report from Robert Mano, ABS-CBN News