MANILA - Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has urged Southeast Asian state leaders to uphold adherence to international law as a means to peacefully resolve disputes, including those in the South China Sea.
Saying the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is "adrift," Del Rosario warned that the regional bloc "risks becoming only a bystander to the events within its own region" if it pursues "an over-abundance of caution."
He said statements that have been made are out of touch with what actually is happening, citing continued militarization in the disputed area.
"I would like to take a further step and suggest that the challenges that we presently face may be attributed to a lack of emphasis on the importance of international law," Del Rosario said in a forum organized by the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute.
"Without this emphasis, we have a disjointed reality between the statements that we make and the practices that prevail on the ground. These practices, with militarization chiefly among them, add to confusion and subtract from enduring trust," he added.
It was during Del Rosario's time as top diplomat that the Philippines initiated an arbitration case against China in 2013 over its repeated incursions in the South China Sea.
Last year, the country won a landmark ruling as the United Nations arbitral tribunal declared invalid China's nine-dash line claim over nearly all of the waters.
China has, however, ignored the ruling and instead ramped up island-building and militarization activities in the disputed waters.
"What is needed, therefore, is less resort to coercion and brute strength and greater resort to the paths that are not only peaceful but acceptable and legitimate to all," Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario urged China to abide by international law and its legal obligations to gain respect from neighbors.
He also called upon the United States to make concrete its support for the region, saying the resolution of current challenges, including the Korean Peninsula crisis "will require the full strength of our cooperative abilities, not our coercive ones."
Top leaders from the Southeast Asian region, along with their partner countries and other delegates, are expected to attend the ASEAN Summit and its related meetings in Manila from Nov. 10 to 14.
US President Donald Trump has confirmed his attendance to the summit in Manila and is expected to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte.
The US has been vocal in condemning Chinese provocations in the disputed waters, citing the need to respect freedom of navigation in the vital waterway.