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Monday, June 24, 2024

Taking the SCS row to the UN

The Philippine government, therefore, should seek international support to exert pressure on Beijing to abide by the 2016 arbitral ruling and abandon their claim over nearly the entire South China Sea, which covers the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone

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Would bringing the maritime dispute between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea to the attention of the United Nations General Assembly achieve anything?

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio thinks so, and he was the first to suggest the move after Beijing has consistently rejected the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague favoring the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.

Two senators, Risa Hontiveros and Francis Tolentino immediately supported the Carpio position.

Then two other senators, JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada, also greenlighted the proposal for the Department of Foreign Affairs to file a resolution seeking UNGA’s action to compel Beijing to respect the 2016 arbitral ruling.

China has been adamant in disregarding the Philippines’ landmark victory, which invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea that infringed on the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“China claims to be an ally and a friend (of the Philippines), but is harassing our fisherfolk,” Sen. Ejercito said. “We need to exhaust all diplomatic means to [protect] our claim [over] the West Philippine Sea.”

The senator noted that China Coast Guard and Chinese militia boats have been “aggressive and hostile” toward Philippine vessels, including small fishing boats, within the country’s territorial waters.

For his part, Sen. Estrada also expressed support for a Senate resolution that Sen Hontiveros had filed on June 19 calling on the DFA to seek UNGA’s action to end China’s harassment of Philippine vessels within the country’s EEZ.

He said he believed the majority of the senators would vote in favor of the Hontiveros resolution. “If that is the only way to stop China’s bullying, then go ahead. Let’s see what the UNGA can do to help us.”

Sen. Francis Escudero, however, offered a different perspective on the issue. He pointed out that the arbitral ruling was “more binding and persuasive than a UNGA resolution.”

“The effect of a UNGA resolution lies in how it influences international law, especially customary international law,” Escudero, a lawyer, said. “I don’t believe it will add anything except ruffle feathers, especially taking into account Eastern culture and practice.”

Escudero said Marcos was correct in engaging China “in areas where we can cooperate and agree.”

“[This can be done] without necessarily giving up on our rights and sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea and, in fact, asserting it with the use of our limited resources and diplomatic ties with our western allies,” the senator said.

It’s not just lawmakers but also people’s organizations directly affected by the stand-off in the South China who want the Philippine government to reassert the country’s national sovereignty during the 78th Session of the UNGA in September.

The fisherfolk group Pamalakaya believes President Marcos Jr. should take to the international arena the troubles of Filipino fishermen in the country’s territorial waters amid China’s aggressive presence.

Pamalakaya claims fisherfolk in Zambales province have been losing 70 percent of their daily income since China seized control of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2012.

The China’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea, accompanied by large-scale poaching activities, has resulted in marine degradation and fish stock depletion, the group said.

The Philippine government, therefore, should seek international support to exert pressure on Beijing to abide by the 2016 arbitral ruling and abandon their claim over nearly the entire South China Sea, which covers the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

“Marcos] should not miss this very opportunity to seek international support in recovering our territorial waters, and as part of his commitment to boost agricultural productivity and achieve local food security,” they added.

Another local fisherfolk group, the New Masinloc Fisherman’s Association, likewise welcomed the proposal, saying the government should insist that China recognize the arbitral ruling and ratify it “because the Chinese rule the area and take advantage of our marine resources…That’s where we fishermen are struggling because we do not benefit from our own marine resources.”

We fully support the Carpio proposal and hope that other lawmakers, the business sector and civil society groups will likewise stand behind the former Supreme Court justice in bringing to the broader international community our demand for Beijing to recognize the 2016 arbitral ruling. This ruling clearly rejected the “nine-dash line” that China has unilaterally declared over nearly all of the South China Sea as its part of its own territory, a claim that has no legal nor historical basis except Beijing’s say-so.

(Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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