December 11, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

PHL should raise sea row as ASEAN chair -- think tank

A THINK TANK in a statement on Thursday said the Philippines “should leverage on its chairmanship of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) this year to put on the spotlight Southeast Asia’s most pressing political and security challenges, including the territorial disputes involving multiple parties.”

“Thus far, however, the administration has not taken the opportunity to reaffirm the award nor address its significance to the region and the rules-based order that Southeast Asia has benefited from,” Stratbase ADRi President Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit was quoted in the statement as saying.

“No stranger to the difficulties in the South China Sea, the Philippines is seeing new evolutions to its trials: first, in the form of Chinese vessels loitering in Benham Rise and, second, in the prospect of Chinese construction on Scarborough Shoal,” Mr. Manhit also said, adding:

“In light of these events, the Philippines must continue to take pains to uphold its sovereign rights and defend its national interests against unlawful or unilateral action.”

Back-to-back meetings between ASEAN leaders will be held next week in the Philippines, after which President Rodrigo R. Duterte is expected to come up with a Chairman’s Statement.

Speaking to reporters in a press conference on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Robespierre L. Bolivar reiterated that the Philippines has not shelved the July 2016 Hague Ruling on the maritime dispute between China and the Philippines in the latter’s favor.

“Definitely the South China Sea-West Philippine Sea issue remains among the important topics that would be discussed by the leaders,” Mr. Bolivar said. “The ASEAN would like to maintain its centrality as a force of peace and stability in the region. All these issues that are causing tension right now will be discussed by the leaders.”

Also on Thursday, former Philippine President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took the previous administration of Benigno S. C. Aquino to task for its provocation of the maritime dispute on his watch.

In a press conference led by Mrs. Arroyo at the House of Representatives, her lawyer, former justice secretary and Solicitor-General Estelito P. Mendoza cited as a “principal achievement” of the Arroyo administration the passage of Republic Act 9522 defining the base lines of the Philippine archipelago that served as a framework for international law on the seas.

He added that during the Arroyo administration, there was “peace” in the West Philippine Sea, and a “good” example of it was a Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking between the Philippines, China, and Vietnam.

“Because it is a research survey, it does not affect the respective the positions of the various countries on the issues related to the area,” Mrs. Arroyo for her part said.

Mr. Mendoza for his part noted that it was after the Arroyo administration China started its “island building factories” in the West Philippine Sea.

“To me, up to now, it still some sort of inquiry why we filed the arbitral claim as... it turned out to be a significant event to China because China now has stated categorically and explicitly that the island building factory, incidentally in the Kalayaan group of islands, was provoked by the arbitral claim of the Philippines,” Mr. Mendoza said.

“So in effect, while we are fighting in the Hague, maybe we were winning in the Hague, but China... made it to a point that while we were winning in the Hague, China is winning in the waters of South China Sea,” he added.