We should seek cooperation from like-minded states – former DFA chief

The Philippines should exhaust all diplomatic avenues to promote an international arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea, as the country protects its sovereignty over disputed seas, said a former top diplomat on Wednesday.

“We must protest what is unlawful, coercive and contrary to the correct principles that govern relations between states. We should seek cooperation from like-minded states,” said former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in a forum held on the first year anniversary of the arbitral tribunal award.

Del Rosario said the Philippines likewise should be ready to approach the United Nations General Assembly to appeal to the “global village of nations.”

“Any suggestion of war should be shunned. Instead, we should exhaust our diplomacy by protesting the threat of war, however unlikely it may be in actuality. We cannot allow others to play with the threat of war when our submitted disputes have already been clarified in the ruling,” he noted.

On July 12 last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” entitlement over the entire West Philippine Sea because it overlapped with the Philippine 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The ambassador also underscored the need for the Philippines to work with other nations, “bilaterally and multilaterally”, to further safeguard its interests and protect its rights.

For his part, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio suggested that the country bring up the South China Sea issue with China while taking measures to fortify the arbitral ruling.

“We should talk to China on the code of conduct, code of unplanned encounters at sea for naval and coast guard vessels, conservation of fish stocks, on preservation of maritime environment and how fishermen can fish on Scarborough Shoal,” he said.

To fortify the arbitral ruling, Carpio said the Philippines could enter into sea boundary agreements with Vietnam and Malaysia on its overlapping extended continental shelf and EEZ in the Spratlys.

Countries that have made competing claims over parts or all of the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea were the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Further, Carpio said the country also could file an extended continental shelf claim beyond its 200-nautical mile EEZ in the WPS off the coast of Luzon.

He said China does not oppose Philippine extended continental shelf claim.

The legal expert was optimistic that the UN would award the extended continental shelf claim to the Philippines, similar to the country’s claim to Benham Rise “where there was no opposition.”

“If China opposes our extended continental shelf claim, China will have a dilemma on what ground to invoke. If China invokes the nine dash line, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf will reject the opposition because the Commission is bound by the ruling of the arbitral tribunal,” added Carpio.

Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director at the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the country should raise the WPS issue with China.

“It is not a choice between confrontation and friendliness especially when it comes to protecting your interest. You can protect your interest even while you are being non-confrontational,” he said in an interview.

Batongbacal believed that the proper timing to raise the issue should be determined by events.

“That’s why every important event that takes place in South China Sea, that document should be the basis of our positions and statements. That’s how you raise it, by making it the basis of your positions…,” he added.