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'Put in reality' invocation of arbitral win vs. China, Del Rosario urges Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte should ask more countries to support the Philippines 2016 arbitral victory against China’s claims in the South China Sea, former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday.

Del Rosario made the statement after Duterte invoked the 2016 arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines's case against China during his first ever speech before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

“The next step is for our president and his administration to put in reality the invocation of the arbitral award,” Del Rosario said in a prepared statement read on Dobol B sa News TV.

“Our government should work earnestly to get the support of more countries so that the arbitral award will be raised more emphatically next year for the UNGA 2021,” he added.

For the first time since the Philippines won its case against China, Duterte, who has cultivated friendly ties with Beijing in exchange for Chinese aid and investments, declared before the UNGA that the ruling is "beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”

Duterte previously shelved the arbitration ruling and has been criticized for his friendly overtures to China despite its aggressive actions and efforts to drive away Filipinos from its own waters in the West Philippine Sea.

However, Duterte said he would raise it at a proper time.

Ex-envoy agrees

Del Rosario's statement was echoed by Ambassador Lauro Baja, the country's former permanent ambassador to the UN.

In a separate interview on Dobol B sa News TV, Baja said the country must "follow-up with concrete measures" Duterte's invocation of the legal victory before the UN event.

"Otherwise the statement will just go into the volumes of papers in the UN," he said.

Baja said the "challenge" for the Philippines now is to ensure that the "issue is kept alive in the UN."

"This will take preparations, negotiations, dialogue with other members of the UN," Baja said.

Baja said one way this could be done is to have the issue included among the UNGA agenda.

"That's difficult to attain but we can find ways to latch our issue to an existing agenda already in the UN," he said.

Welcome move

Del Rosario, as well as retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, meanwhile commended Duterte's "strong stand," saying such move "demonstrates he is not at all impervious but listens to the will of his countrymen."

"By invoking the Arbitral Award, the President has acted more faithfully to our Constitution, which mandates him and our military to secure our country’s sovereignty and protect our lands and seas," said Del Rosario.

"We deeply thank you, Mr. President, for defending what is ours."

Carpio and Del Rosario led the Philippines' arbitral tribunal victory against China.

Carpio said it is "heartening" that Duterte acknowledged “the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award" several days after Germany, France and Britain backed the ruling that invalidated China's massive South China Sea claim.

Carpio hoped Duterte's strong statements would be backed by an effective policy to curb Chinese aggression in Philippine waters.

"I fervently hope that this is the policy that the Duterte administration will implement across all levels – in the protection of our exclusive economic zone in the West Philippines Sea, in the negotiations for the Code of Conduct, and in gathering the support of the international community for the enforcement of the arbitral award," he said.

Proper forum

In an interview on ANC earlier in the day, Del Rosario said with the invocation of Duterte of the legal victory, the UN now should provide a very suitable and very effective multilateral approach on the issue.

“The history will tell us that the UNGA is the proper forum to bring upon our case since we are not able to arrive, even effectively, manage a bilateral with China,” he said.

“It is with the help of other countries, responsible nations to help us making China realize that we need to do this,” Del Rosario added.

Interviewed on Dobol B sa News TV, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said that Duterte's statement was surprising considering his previous remarks on the dispute.

“Sana ito ay hindi lang, kumbaga, palabas. Sana sa susunod na mga araw ay maging consistent naman dyan sa sinabi sa UN sa posisyon natin dito sa South China Sea,” he said.

Batongbacal said Duterte may have changed his tone after not receiving any positive response from China despite his efforts for peace.

Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines' Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, also suggested that Duterte’s invocation was  influenced by the recent support of European countries for the 2016 arbitral win handed to the Philippines against China.

“Kumbaga, nakakadagdag ng tapang kung susunod ka na lang sa marami,” he added.

In July 2016, the Philippines won against China in a landmark ruling by an international tribunal that invalidated Beijing’s massive claims in South China Sea.

"The  Tribunal  concluded that  there  was  no  legal  basis  for  China  to claim  historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’," the Permanent Court of Arbitration said then.

The 501-page ruling was handed down in The Hague, Netherlands, more than three years after the case was filed by the Philippines under the Aquino administration in January 2013.  —with Michaela del Callar/KBK/BM, GMA News