The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that the Philippines will not mention the international tribunal’s ruling last year regarding the South China Sea territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing during the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.
“Well, actually, there’s no need to really discuss The Hague ruling because it already exists. It’s already a part of the law, of the international law, so it’s there and the focus will be of course on – I think the priority now is to try and get a Code of Conduct,” DFA Undersecretary Enrique Manalo said on Thursday, January 5, in a press briefing at the Malacañang.
Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague ruled that China’s historic “nine-dash line” claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea had no legal basis.
The tribunal also concluded that China violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a treaty signed by both Manila and Beijing.
The Chinese government, however, has refused to acknowledge the ruling.
“The Hague ruling will not be on the agenda in the sense that it’s already part of international law. So we really can’t discuss the ruling, it’s there,” Manalo added.
Early this week, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. also said that he “can’t see the point” of discussing the ruling during the summit.
“The PCA arbitral ruling on the South China Sea is final and binding only between the parties. No discussion of the ruling by ASEAN is going to change it or result in its implementation without the use of force except through our peaceful bilateral engagements with China,” he said.
According to Yasay, no one could implement the ruling, not even the ASEAN. He noted that the arbitral tribunal itself has no enforcement power.
“[B]ecause the arbitral tribunal has no enforcement power, the only remaining issue is on its implementation that the Philippines and China have agreed to defer until both parties are ready with a solution without eroding or compromising their respective claims,” he added.
The Philippines will be hosting the ASEAN summit this year.
Despite not discussing the ruling, the DFA said, however, that among the top priorities during this year’s ASEAN summit would be finalizing of the code of conduct for claimants on the South China Sea.
“The issue of the South China Sea, of course, is in the agenda of the ASEAN. In fact, we will be undertaking ongoing work throughout the year focusing on the unfinished Code of Conduct of the South China Sea and the Declaration of the Code of Conduct and the principles of the Code of Conduct,” Manalo said.
Asked how they would form the code of conduct with China’s reported construction and militarization on the South China Sea, Manalo replied: “That’s the challenge we face in coming out with the framework. It’s not only the Philippines who faces this challenge but other claimant states in the region.”
“And I think the whole purpose of the Code of Conduct is to try and see how these disputes can be managed in a peaceful way and in a non-confrontational way. And this is the position that the Philippines and the other ASEAN countries will be taking when we discuss a possible framework for the Code of Conduct and the implementations of the principles on the Declaration of the Code of Conduct,” he added.
Yasay said that any ASEAN member may also raise its militarization concern in the South China Sea as a separate issue distinct from the arbitral ruling.
“However, only by unanimous consensus can the regional group agree to place this in the agenda,” Yasay noted.