Two years after the Philippines won an arbitration case against China over the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Malacañang on Thursday said the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte will assert “what is ours” while moving on with bilateral ties with Beijing.
“We assure the public that on the second year of the anniversary, we will continue to assert what is ours while we move on with our bilateral relations with China,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), based at The Hague in the Netherlands, released a landmark decision that invalidated China’s nine-dash line map, which covers nearly the whole of South China Sea.
The 501-page PCA ruling also said “there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources”.
Roque explained the PCA’s verdict covers only the legal status of reefs, rocks and artificial islands and not the disputed islands in the Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Island groups.
“We are decided to move on issues which are non-controversial because we know that the final resolution particularly on the issues of sovereignty on the disputed islands will take many, many, many years to resolve since this was not a subject of the arbitral ruling that we won two years ago,” he said.
China had rejected the international tribunal’s ruling which it called “null and void”.
With China’s action, Duterte had decided to temporarily set aside the PCA ruling to give way to peaceful and friendly dialogues that eventually revived China-Philippines relations.
Duterte, however, told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he would raise the arbitral decision before his term ends in 2022.
For now, Roque said concerns about WPS, including China’s alleged militarization of the dispute territory, are being discussed in the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM).
“I have said that we are discussing this in the bilateral mechanism that we have with China, which also has the effect of a protest,” Roque said.
Contrary to alleged inactions by the Duterte administration, Roque said “the President has publicly protested in some instances”.
“And I know of formal protests filed directly with the embassy upon expressed direction of the President ‘no. So we have said all this; we are not hiding what we have been doing to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea,” Roque said.
Roque dared former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay to file an impeachment complaint if the latter feels government’s inaction against China’s aggression is betrayal of public trust.
“He should file impeachment if he wants. He’s welcome. It’s a free country, they can file it and we will meet them in court,” Roque said. PNA