Ex-DFA chief on South China Sea dispute: PH must demand what is due from China

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 14 2020 04:18 PM | Updated as of Jul 14 2020 05:29 PM

MANILA - The Philippine government must listen to its people and demand what is due from China over its aggression in the West Philippine Sea, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Tuesday.

Del Rosario, who led the Philippines' arbitration bid that culminated in victory in 2016, made the remark as the Chinese embassy in Manila said the Philippines' legal win against Beijing's sweeping claims in the disputed waters was "illegal and invalid."

"It is time for Filipinos to unite and demand what is due from China. We therefore beseech our Government to lead us in this endeavor, as representatives of the Filipino people aggrieved by China’s actions," Del Rosario said in a statement.

"We should not be hoodwinked into giving up our rights by the mere prospect of Chinese money. Seeking accountability for China’s atrocities in our land and waters is not waging war against China; it is taking what Filipinos justly deserve under the Rule of Law."

The Philippines must not succumb to threats of force or war when handling the issue, Del Rosario said. Duterte had many times said he refused to tout the Philippines' arbitral victory in fear of going to war against China.

Last year, Duterte raised the award before Chinese President Xi Jinping, who rejected it.

"It is a grave insult to our forefathers who died and fought for our country’s self-respect and independence if we only cower in fear before such threats. It is also a grave insult to our children and grandchildren if we give away our waters and territories in the face of such threats," Del Rosario said.

"As we had previously said, we are opposed to war—as we should be. But if threatened by the use of force, we should be ready to inflict, at the very least, a bloody nose on any attacker who is out to harm us."

Malacañang said Tuesday it would "agree to disagree" with China as the latter continued to reject the arbitral award and recently established administrative districts in the South China Sea covering the Paracels and Spratlys.

Del Rosario cited survey results that show majority of Filipinos believe it was important for the Philippines to regain control of China-occupied islands in the West Philippine Sea and bring the issue to international organizations such as the United Nations.

Government must raise Manila's arbitral win before the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September, Del Rosario said, as he believes the award has "multilateral support" from other claimants "whose lands and seas are encroached upon by China’s nine-dash line."

"This is when we will rely on the UN General Assembly to serve as not only the primary promoter of the rule of law but also the court of world public opinion," he said.

The country must also gather support and assistance from other Southeast Asian nations, the United States, Australia, Japan, and the European Union.

"...[T]hese countries believe that the enforcement of the Award is the legitimate process of resolving the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, not China’s method of bullying and deceit," Del Rosario said.

MAKE CHINA PAY FOR DESTRUCTION OF MARINE WEALTH

The Philippines must also make Chinese officials criminally accountable and pay monetarily for the "most massive, near-permanent and devastating destruction" they inflicted on the disputed waters' marine wealth.

The country has been losing some P33.1 billion annually or P231.7 billion since 2014 from its damaged reefs due to China's reclamation activities and illegal fishing in the waters, Del Rosario said, citing data from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute.

"Philippine authorities have the right to seize assets and properties owned by Chinese State in the Philippines to satisfy China’s debt to the Filipino people. These Chinese assets are subject to Philippine jurisdiction by the fact that they are located in the Philippines," he said.

Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales last year filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court against Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials for their "crimes against humanity."

"This case is a work-in-progress as we will complete our submission regarding the concerns raised by the ICC prosecutors regarding ICC’s jurisdiction," Del Rosario said as he urged other claimant nations to submit complaints against China's "systematic and wanton environmental destruction." 

Del Rosario also urged the Philippine government to engage as an official advisor former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio for his "unparalleled wisdom, expertise and sound judgment" on the sea dispute.

"Throughout the years, we have seen that Justice Carpio’s work on this issue has always been for the country’s interest, with the goal of protecting our lands and seas for generations of Filipinos," he said.

Manila in April filed diplomatic protests against China’s inclusion of parts of West Philippine Sea territories in one of its provinces as this violated international law and Philippine sovereignty. It also protested the pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in Philippine waters.

Last year, China sunk a Philippine fishing boat and left its 22 crew at sea, who were then rescued by Vietnamese fishers.