By Mario Casayuran
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin reiterated Thursday the Philippine government’s stand that it will not abandon a 2016 United Nations arbitral ruling rejecting China’s historical claim over most parts of the South China Sea (SCS).
Appearing a Senate finance sub-committee chaired by Senator Richard J. Gordon, Locsin said he was at the recent meeting in China between President Duterte and China President Xi Jinping wherein the Philippine president categorically stated that the UN arbitral ruling was ‘’final and not subject to appeal.’’
Respect and strict adherence to the UN ruling was stressed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon during the committee on the proposed 2020 P22.62 billion budget for the DFA as sought by Locsin.
Locsin asked Gordon and Drilon to trust the DFA in the honest use of its proposed budget after stressing that his department was the country’s first line of defense.
Gordon later approved, at the committee level, the proposed DFA for the next fiscal year and would be deliberated on at the Senate floor.
Drilon had expressed concern over fears that the Philippine government might have abandoned the favorable UN arbitral ruling in favor of the proposed Philippine-China joint exploration for gas and oil in the SCS.
‘’Yes,’’ was Locsin’s reply to a query by Drilon whether he was right in perceiving that both the UN arbitral ruling and the joint exploration agreement could stand side by side.
Locsin explained that he crafted the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on the joint exploration between China and the Philippines in disputed areas that would govern the two countries’ relationship and negotiations in the disputed areas.
‘‘I agree with you that the 60 (for the Philippines) – 40 (for China percent sharing) is consistent with the Constitution,’’ Drilon said.
During the China meeting, Locsin said both countries affirmed that the West Philippine Sea was not the sum total of the Philippine-China bilateral relationship and that their position on the UN arbitral ruling would remain at variance.
The Philippine government likewise stressed the need for trust and cooperation with respect to the freedom of navigation in overflights at the SCS, and tor them to refrain from actions that would raise tensions in the region.
Several countries, particularly the US, have sent their naval ships to pass through the South China Sea to the chagrin and protests of Beijing.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Philippine government would not drop or abandon the UN arbitral ruling in favor of a joint exploration agreement with China.
Panelo explained that the government would continue to negotiate ‘’peacefully’’ with China about the conflict while pursuing other mutually beneficial interests such as the exploration agreement.