PHL should raise sea row as ASEAN chair — think tank

Business World - - THE NATION - By Lu­cia Edna P. de Guz­man Ray­nan F. Javil Re­porters

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 SeaWest 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.

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