By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
SINGAPORE—The Philippine government will never give up an iota of its claim in the West Philippine Sea despite the overwhelming presence of China in the disputed resource-filled waterway.
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. made the statement after President Duterte, in an ambush interview here, said that countries should now accept that China is in possession of the disputed waters.
“China is already in possession. It’s now in their hands. So why do you have to create frictions — strong — military activity that will prompt a response from China?” Duterte said Thursday morning.
In a press briefing here, Locsin said that the Philippines is not going to cease its claim in the South China Sea.
“Absolutely not. I have repeatedly said not an inch, not an iota of sovereignity. That was my… I keep saying it, I said it also in the UN (United Nations),” Locsin said.
China mum on Duterte’s ‘restraint’ remark
During the ASEAN-China Summit here on Wednesday, Duterte urged all concerned parties to exercise self-restraint in the South China Sea to avoid any tension. However, Locsin said that China did not give any response to Duterte’s remark.
“China didn’t say anything,” Locsin, who was also present during the Summit, said.
“But the President was very clear: Let’s exercise restraint and there was no response, which is you can interpret it as you want but it was rather bold of our President to bring it up. The use of the word ‘restraint,'” he added.
However, Locsin said that China, through its representative Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, is in favor of pushing through with the code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea as fast as possible.
Three years time?
Meanwhile, Locsin said that the three-year time period given to ASEAN and China to talk about the COC is the period that the Philippines will serve as coordinator for the ASEAN-China Dialogue Partnership.
“Three years because that I believe is the span of our coordination, the Philippine coordinatorship, that’s why it’s three years. Certainly, I cannot talk about longer than that because that’s our mandate,” he said.
“But the sentiment of the Philippines as expressed by President Duterte: Please come do it as qickly as you can but of course you can’t rush these things. But that is his sentiment and I think he was the one who urged faster developments in this area,” he added.
US view important
Meanwhile, Locsin said that the United States’ input on the South China Sea is still important as the world superpower is still a major protagonist in the disputed waters.
“I think as a concerned party, remember they have their own foreign policy. They have continually stressed freedom of navigation. It’s important that we got their views and that they express them,” he said.
“Sure it’s between us and the literal states of Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Korea, in Southeast Asia would be Vietnam, Philippines, the Southeast Asian countries that have a coastline. But again, they’re a major party. Not a major party but a protagonist in the area. So it would be nice to know what they feel about it, what they think about it,” he added.
Note verbales deemed useless
Meanwhile, Locsin said that sending note verbales to someone who does not reply is like banging your head against a wall.
“I’m now feeling that if you keep on doing that and nothing happens, these keeps going on, it becomes a fact of life,” he said.
“What was the result of doing that (sending note verbales)? Strengthened our claim? Did it? I don’t know,” he added.
“We’ll see. Situations change, but I don’t know. I’ve always favored asserting, that was my approach in the UN, I guess I’ll bring it to the DFA,” he continued.
Hague ruling now part of international law
Locsin also addressed Duterte’s critics who claim that the President has basically given up on the Philippines’ claim in the South China Sea as it does not assert the Permanent Court of Arbitration award the country got two years ago.
“They don’t know their law. I’m sorry. You know, not everyone went to a good school. But that’s not true. It is now a part of international law. It’s just there,” he said.
According to Locsin, The Hague ruling is now part of international law, saying the decision is a description of maritime features.
“That’s what it is. That, as I said, that description one day, and it is recognized, is applied in different countries, especially in Scandinavia. In the Indian ocean it is being invoked. It is now part of international law,” he said.
The country’s top diplomat then said that the purpose of the country going to the Hague was to get a clarification about misunderstandings in the disputed waters.
“The purpose of going to the Tribunal is to clarify a point of uncertainty. It was clarified, not only for us, but for the rest of the world that has similar topographical features, and for those who dispute it,” Locsin explained.
“So there it is, it is now part of international law. It just won’t die,” he added.