Abide by UNCLOS, avert war—Locsin

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday stressed the need for all countries to observe international laws, including their treaty obligations under the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea to avoid conflict that could lead to war.

Abide by UNCLOS, avert war—Locsin
“If I am not allowed as president of a sovereign nation to talk about what I want, then let’s not talk altogether. Do not control my mouth because it is a gift from God.” — President Rodrigo Duterte, speaking at an event in Odiongan, Romblon, elaborates on his decision to bring up Manila’s 2016 arbitral victory over Beijing in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping next week.
In his remarks during the opening of the Seventh Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law, Locsin said despite its near-universal acceptance by 168 states parties, “the most imminent and potentially the most disastrous dangers in our world today pertain to marine and maritime affairs―the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea.”

The Department of National Defense on Thursday said it will first coordinate with the military on how to carry out President Rodrigo Duterte’s instructions requiring all foreign ships to secure clearance before entering the country’s territorial waters.

“We will have to carefully work this out with the AFP, particularly the commands whose area of operations these fall under. There needs to be SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] that clearly define our responses in compliance with Philippine and international laws,” said Undersecretary Cardozo M. Luna, acting Defense spokesman.

President Duterte’s order requiring foreign ships to seek clearance first from the government does not counter against freedom of navigation, Malacañang said Thursday.

This came after Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Duterte’s directive was against the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

A country could not require foreign ships to ask permission if they would pass innocently through a territorial sea, Carpio said.

But Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government maintains the position of the President, echoing National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

Panelo also said the President’s order does not go against the freedom of navigation.

Locsin said maritime conflict between countries could be resolved peacefully if the “greatest power on earth led by the example of subscribing to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Describing the 1982 UNCLOS as the constitution for the oceans, the country’s top diplomat said: “If only we respected pacta sunt servanda [Latin for “agreements must be kept”] in our obligations under UNCLOS, there could be less animosity with its greater likelihood of conflict.”

Locsin was referring to China, which, although a signatory to UNCLOS, refused to recognize the 2016 Arbitral Award rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of the Philippines invalidating its massive claims over the South China Sea and clarifying the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea.

Locsin also criticized the United States for its failure to be part of UNCLOS. The US has signed the agreement, but it was not ratified by the US Senate, a treaty-ratifying body.

“If only the greatest power on earth led by example of subscribing to UNCLOS, it would be a safer world. The only cure for the uncertainty that gnaws at our sense of security―and invites us to prepare for war to find its opposite in peace-is the universal acceptance of international law. Not in place of the national self-interest but to serve it better,” he said.

The US and China are at odds over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where Beijing has turned several former reefs into artificial islands with military facilities, runways, and surface-to-air missiles.

While the US is not a party to the disputes, it has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation and overflights in the contested waters where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have overlapping claims, but claimed nearly in its entirety by China, through its nine-dash-line claims.

Recently, the tensions between the Philippines and China heightened after Chinese warships made unannounced passage through the Sibutu Strait in Tawi–Tawi in July and August.

While any foreign vessel may be allowed to cross a coastal state’s territorial under UNCLOS without the need to notify the state if they are conducting innocent passage, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana does not consider such passage of the Chinese as such because it has already happened several times.

Meanwhile, Carpio said that in the exercise by foreign merchant ships and warships of innocent passage through the territorial sea or archipelagic waters, the coastal state cannot require prior permission or prior notification.

Carpio proposed that the Congress immediately pass the Archipelagic Sea Lanes Passage bill in order for the President to designate the sea lanes where foreign merchant ships and warships could pass.

“The law can require foreign ships exercising the right to archipelagic sea lane passage to turn on their Automatic Identification System [AIS] and for submarines to surface and show their flag,” Carpio said. With PNA and MJ Blancaflor 

READ: ‘China does unfriendly act’

READ: Locsin backs out of ban on survey ships

Topics: Teodoro Locsin Jr. , United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea , Department of National Defense , Rodrigo Duterte
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