Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Monday the arbitral ruling rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 in favor of the Philippines “is now an integral part of the international law.”
The ruling invalidated Beijing’s massive claims over the hotly-contested South China Sea and upheld the country’s exclusive economic zone, particularly in the West Philippine Sea, del Rosario noted.
In his speech after receiving an award conferred by De La Salle University, in coordination with Jose W. Diokno Foundation, Del Rosario stressed that the Philippines’ victory over China at the PCA has also served as guidepost for other states “to consider the dispute settlement mechanism under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) as an option for resolving disputes in a peaceful manner.”
“The UNCLOS Award is a remarkable document. It will not only stand the test of time, it will be a model for ages. It is remarkable in many ways, most especially for its moral strength. It is a compelling rebuke to those who doubt that international justice does exist and will prevail,” said Del Rosario, chairman of the ADR Stratbase Institute.
Besides Del Rosario, also conferred last Friday with the “Ka Pepe Diokno Human Rights Award” in a virtual awarding ceremony sponsored by the De La Salle University (DLSU) in partnership with the Jose W. Diokno Foundation were former President Benigno S. Aquino III, retired Justice Antonio Carpio, and former Ombudswoman Conchita Carpio Morales.
“As Secretary of Foreign Affairs, I was made responsible for bringing China before an international tribunal. While the challenges of enforcing the Tribunal’s Award remains formidable, by gaining the UNCLOS Award in 2016, we as a country have taken a significant step towards upholding the Rule of Law and defending what is rightfully ours in the face of unlawful aggression by a foreign power,” the country’s former top diplomat said.
Del Rosario, one of the staunchest advocates of asserting the country’s sovereignty over the disputed South China Sea, took the position that “international law is the great equalizer among states” where “it allows small countries to stand on an equal footing with more powerful states” such as China.
“That is why, in January 2013 when we initiated arbitration against China, we confidently put our fate in international institutions which embody the Rule of Law. Almost four years after, on July 12, 2016, we were able to vindicate the rights of Filipinos over their waters through the Award issued by a Tribunal created under UNCLOS,” he pointed out.
“I say this not just as a former public servant and a Filipino, but also as a global citizen. It is not just the fate of the Philippines that is at stake in the South China Sea Dispute. The fate of the Rule of Law adhered to by almost all nations is at stake, with the insidious specter of 'Might Makes Right' hovering over our collective future,” he said.
“When we decided to go to arbitration, the Philippines was fulfilling one of its most solemn duties, which is to settle international disputes peacefully. Our disputes with China in the South China Sea have, for a very long time, complicated our relationship. Tensions have risen dramatically. Unable to resolve these disputes ourselves, we thus turned to arbitration to provide all parties a durable, rules-based solution,” he noted.
“We believe the UNCLOS Award benefits everyone. For China, it defines and clarifies its maritime entitlements under the treaty which it ratified in 1986. For the Philippines, it clarifies what is ours, specifically our fishing rights, rights to resources, and rights to enforce our laws within our EEZ,” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario noted that for the ASEAN neighbors, the award provides persuasive guidance of their rights and entitlements under UNCLOS, while for the rest of the international community, the UNCLOS Award is meant to uphold the Rule of Law and will help in attaining security, stability and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.
“We also believe that our experience in the arbitration is instructive for other states to consider the dispute settlement mechanism under UNCLOS as an option for resolving disputes in a peaceful manner,” he said.
However, Del Rosario lamented that despite the arbitral award, China is preventing the Philippines from carrying out even the most basic exploration and exploitation activities in areas where only the Philippines can possibly have rights.
“Until now, China is failing to respect its obligations under international law, specifically UNCLOS. It continues to interfere with the Philippines’ sovereign duty to promote the social progress of our people and our efforts to achieve a better standard of life for all Filipinos,” he said.
“China is not just interfering with the progress of the Filipino people; China’s unilateral actions and the atmosphere of intimidation they have created are also trampling upon the rights and interests of the peoples of Southeast Asia and beyond,” he added.
“China’s massive island-building campaign shows its utter disregard for the rights of other states and for international law. China intentionally created one of the biggest environmental disasters in the world,” he deplored.
Because of this, he and former Ombudswoman Morales, with retired Justice Antonio Carpio, as counsel, submitted a Communication to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to show that Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials committed crimes against humanity by causing the near permanent destruction of the marine environment of the South China Sea which will result in a disastrous food crisis in the region.
“For no state, no matter how powerful, should be allowed to claim an entire sea as its own and to use force or the threat of force in asserting that claim. For no state should be permitted to write and rewrite the rules in order to justify its expansionist agenda. If that is allowed, UNCLOS itself will be deemed useless. Power will have prevailed over reason and the Rule of Law will have been rendered meaningless,” he concluded.