The Philippines must consider several bilateral and multilateral meetings in handling the issue of its territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea aside from its dual talks with Beijing and the consultations within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an official said Thursday.
The suggestion came as the country commemorated the 2nd anniversary of the Permanent Court of Arbitration July 12 ruling.
At a forum organized by the Albert del Rosario Institute at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said the country can enter into a sea boundary agreement with other claimant states.
One scenario is the Philippines and Vietnam venturing into such a deal over its overlapping extended continental shelves beyond the Spratlys.
The premise of the agreement would be on the lack of geologic feature in the Spratlys that generate an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as ruled by the Arbitral Tribunal.
Once the two countries established there is no overlapping EEZ between them, the sea boundary will be the median line, Carpio said.
“There can be no dispute on this,” he added. “Such an agreement adopts a ruling in the award by state practice, even if China is not a party to the agreement.”
Meanwhile, he noted a similar sea boundary agreement can be entered into between the Philippines and Malaysia to delineate their adjoining EEZ between Borneo and Palawan.
“The premise of this agreement is again that none of the islands claimed by either country in the Spratlys generates an exclusive economic zone as ruled by the Arbitral Tribunal. Consequently, there are no EEZs from these islands that will overlap with the EEZ of Borneo or Palawan,” he said.
Former foreign affairs chief Albert del Rosario echoed similar sentiments, saying Manila can still move forward on the West Philippine Sea issue through bilateral engagements with other states, as well as through multilateral ones with the United Nations.
He underscored that with an all-out effort to pursue these, “the path to gaining the support of the community of responsible nations remains.”
Vice President Leni Robredo also expressed optimism that through calls for multilateral and bilateral cooperation, the region may avert conflict on a global scale.
“With stakes this high, this is not the time to look for someone or something to blame; this is the time to find solutions for the benefit of us all,” she said.
July 12 marks the 2nd anniversary of the Permanent Court of Arbitration Award, handing its landmark ruling that invalidated China’s nine-dash line, which claims at least 80 percent of the South China Sea.
While there is still a long way to go in the settlement of competing claims in the West Philippine Sea, Carpio said “not all is doom and gloom” with the Philippines’ position in the area.
“I am heartened that Secretary of Foreign Affairs Peter Cayetano has drawn a red line on Scarborough Shoal. That red line is: China cannot build on Scarborough Shoal. This should be the red line of the Philippines and the Filipino people,” he said.
Carpio urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to further promote this, saying the agency should campaign among ASEAN states, in particular among those states prejudiced by the nine-dashed line, to make Scarborough Shoal also the bloc’s red line.
He added that the DFA should also campaign for the United States to make Scarborough Shoal the official red line under the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty.
Carpio said it was former US President Barack Obama who originally told President Xi Jinping in 2015 that Scarborough Shoal was a red line.
“Moreover, the U.S. has recognized Scarborough Shoal as part of Philippine territory when the US was still the colonial power in the Philippines,” he said. PNA