‘PH can’t sway UN general assembly to back arbitral ruling,’ says Roque

Published September 18, 2020, 4:46 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The Philippines is unlikely to sway the United Nations (UN) to support its West Philippine Sea claim against China due to certain realities, such as “money talks” even in international relations, Malacañang admitted Friday. 

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque (CAMILLE ANTE / MANILA BULLETIN)

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said while the government appreciates the gesture of France, Germany and United Kingdom rejecting China’s sweeping claims in the disputed territory, Manila is not inclined to elevate the maritime dispute before the UN.

“Black propaganda ‘yan na mayroon pa tayong kailangan gawin. ‘Yung sinasabing  nila na gawin sa UN General Assembly, pwede po yan pero let’s be realistic. Hindi natin mase-sway ang 197 members ng UN kung ang kalaban natin ay Tsina dahil alam naman po natin na limited ang ating kakayahan (It’s black propaganda that we must supposedly do more. They say we should bring it before the UN General Assembly, that is possible but let’s be realistic. We cannot sway the 197 members of the UN if our enemy is China because we know our capacity is limited),” Roque said during a televised press briefing Friday.

“At sa pulitika, money talks. Yan po talaga , even in international relations. so hindi rin tayo makapunta sa security council dahil  may veto power ang Tsina (And in politics, money talks. That’s the way it is even in international relations. We also cannot go to the Security Council because China has veto power),” he added.

Besides, the country does not have to do anything else to further assert its claims in the West Philippine Sea since it already won in the arbitration court in 2016, according to Roque.

He said the arbitration ruling that nullified China’s claims in most of the South China Sea is already considered a “victory” for the country and an “act of being assertive” of its claims.

“Wala ka na dapat gawin diyan kasi nandoon na yun. ‘Yun na ‘yun yung pruweba na tayo ang sinabi ng UN tribunal for law of the sea ang mayroong economic rights doon sa lugar kung saan tinayo ang artificial islands at tao ay nakinabang sa desisyon na walang legal basehan ng historical claims to water ng Tsina [You don’t have to do anything else because it already exists. That’s the proof that the UN tribunal on the law of the sea ruled that we have economic rights over the places where artificial islands were built. We benefited from the decision that China has no legal basis for its historical claims to the water),” he said.

“In international law, that’s the evidence of existence of customary norm, the decision itself. You need not do anything else,” he added.

Nonetheless, Roque extended the country’s gratitude to the three European nations that filed a joint note verbale with the UN against China’s claims over South China Sea.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom reportedly stated that the exercise of historic rights over South China Sea do not adhere with international law and with provisions under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They also invoked the 2016 arbitral award won by the Philippines against China on the South China Sea dispute.

“Nagpapasalamat po kami sa mga bansang ito dahil hindi naman po mabubura iyong panalo natin sa arbitral tribunal na iyan (We thank these countries because our victory in the arbitral tribunal cannot be erased),” he said.

He noted that the court’s decision is “binding” on parties concerned even though China has refused to recognize the decision.

“Hindi kinikilala iyan ng Tsina pero dahil siya po ay partido sa UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, binigay po niya ang kaniyang consent na i-settle ang lahat ng dispute sa pamamagitan ng dispute settlement procedure (China does not recognize the decision but because it is party of the  UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, it has given consent to settle the dispute through the dispute settlement procedure),” he said.

Despite the arbitral award, Roque admitted that unfortunately in international law, there was  no police force that will enforce the decision. “Limited po ang ating options doon sa assumption ng mga bansa ng daigdig ay boluntaryong susunod sa kanilang international obligation (Our options are limited on the assumption that the countries will voluntarily follow their international obligation),” he said.

For now, Roque maintained that the administration has decided to set aside contentious issues on the maritime row, and instead focus on areas of cooperation with China.

“Isinasantabi muna natin ito dahil walang resolusyon ito sa ngayon, pero isulong natin iyong pupuwedeng isulong, kagaya ng usaping pamumuhunan at kalakal (We will set this aside because there si no resolution yet but we will pursue what we can pursue such as trade and investments),” he said.

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute. The tribunal declared that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights within the area falling within its so-called nine-dash line. 

Beijing however refused to recognize the tribunal’s decision and continued its controversial reclamation works in the disputed territory.