Philippines Warns Against Efforts to ‘Erase’ Landmark Ruling on South China Sea

J.C. Gotinga and Jojo Riñoza
Manila
2021-07-12
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Philippines Warns Against Efforts to ‘Erase’ Landmark Ruling on South China Sea Filipino fishermen and activists rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Metro Manila as the country marked the fifth anniversary of an arbitral award that dismissed Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, July 12, 2021.
Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews

The Philippines marked the fifth anniversary Monday of a landmark arbitral ruling that went against China’s expansive South China Sea claims, by warning that Manila rejected any attempt to “erase” the verdict, while Beijing dismissed it as a “piece of waste paper.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken marked the anniversary by saying the two Asian nations were bound under international maritime law to comply with the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

Washington would invoke its mutual defense commitments should Philippine forces be attacked in the contested waterway, he warned. America’s top diplomat issued the statement on the same day that a U.S. warship conducted a freedom of navigation mission in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands.

In Manila, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said President Rodrigo Duterte had previously stated that the ruling was part of international law. 

“The award is final. We firmly reject attempts to undermine; nay, even erase it from international law, history and our collective memories,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippines was seeking a peaceful solution to maritime disputes.

“On this anniversary, we once again urge all interested parties to heed the call for a rules-based international order and refrain from acts that may exacerbate this tense situation in the area,” he said in a statement. “Consistent with Philippine national policy, we shall continue to seek all avenues to achieve a peaceful and friendly management of all standing maritime disputes.”

In 2013, the government of then-President the late Benigno Aquino III sued Beijing before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague over Chinese claims in the South China Sea that encroached upon most of Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The case marked the first time any nation had challenged China over its maritime sovereignty.

On July 12, 2016, the court ruled in Manila’s favor, declaring its sovereign rights to an EEZ as valid over Beijing’s historical claim as demarcated by the so-called Nine-Dash Line on official Chinese maritime maps.

In Beijing on Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry maintained its stance on the South China Sea.

“The award of the arbitration is illegal, null and void. It is nothing more than a piece of waste paper,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily press conference, as he challenged U.S. military efforts in the maritime region.

The United States has conducted drills that “illegally intruded into China’s territorial waters,” he said. “Since the beginning of this year, the U.S. side conducted close-in reconnaissance for nearly 2,000 times and over 20 large-scale military drills on the sea. The U.S. allegation of ‘freedom of navigation’ in the South China Sea threatened is simply untenable.”

China’s People’s Liberation Army reported on social media that it sent ships and planes to “warn them and send them away” on Monday after the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, entered Chinese-claimed waters near the Paracels, according to media reports.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its own, but five other Asian governments – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – have territorial claims. While Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

One of those countries, Vietnam, said on Monday that it wanted all sides involved to respect and fully implement the legal obligations in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), cooperate and actively contribute in preserving peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

210712-PH-CH-US-scs-inside.JPG
The USS Benfold sails through the South China Sea while conducting a freedom of navigation mission, July 12, 2021. [U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Deanna C. Gonzales]

“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement on its website, referring to the People’s Republic of China. “The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did here. Nothing PRC says otherwise will deter us.”

In his statement, Blinken said freedom of the sea was an enduring interest of all nations.

“Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea. The People’s Republic of China continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway,” he said.

“We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Meanwhile in Metro Manila, dozens of members of the fishermen’s group Pamalakaya joined activists in protesting outside the Chinese’ consulate to demand that Chinese ships leave the Philippines’ EEZ and other disputed waters. 

“Five years after our momentous arbitral victory, China continues to trample on our fishing rights in our traditional fishing grounds,” Fernando Hicap, the group’s leader, told reporters.

“These are Filipino fishers standing up against China and upholding our rights in the West Philippine Sea,” Hicap said.

The West Philippine Sea is how Manila refers to its EEZ and territories it claims in the South China Sea.

“Likewise, this is a defiance against President Duterte who has completely turned his back on our national sovereignty and the Filipino people. Our own government’s cowardice and submission to China will not stop us from asserting what is rightfully ours.”

He said fishermen have been losing millions of pesos every year to the destruction of coral reef by Chinese reclamation and illegal poaching within the country’s territory.

In a report released Monday on water quality in the Spratly Islands, U.S.-based Simularity said satellite imagery had verified that hundreds of ships anchored there were dumping raw sewage on the reefs they are occupying, “leading to a cascade of reef damage that can take decades to recover.”

Such damage directly affects fish stocks in the South China Sea, said Similarity, a private geospatial imaging analysis firm.

“This is a catastrophe of epic proportions and we are close to the point of no return,” the report said.

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