Philippines marks 7th anniversary of South China Sea ruling

Jojo Riñoza and Gerard Carreon
Philippines marks 7th anniversary of South China Sea ruling Activists rally in front of the Chinese consulate where they declared “West Philippines Sea Day” to mark the Philippines’ 2016 victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, July 12, 2023.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

Dozens of Filipino nationalists marched to the Chinese consulate in the Philippines’ financial center on Wednesday to mark the seventh anniversary of an international ruling that dismissed Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.

The protesters, mostly from the political party Akbayan, carried anti-China banners calling for Beijing to leave the West Philippine Sea, Manila’s name for South China Sea waters within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

They called on China to respect the 2016 arbitration court’s award that ruled in favor of the Philippines and against China’s territorial claims. A recent harassment incident reported by the Philippine Coast Guard against its Chinese counterpart added an extra impetus to the protest this year.

“We should remember this victory as a legal victory. Not just a legal victory, but also a moral and historical victory of the Filipino people,” Akbayan Party President Rafaela David told reporters.

“We want this day to be appreciated as a historical moment that we won against a superpower country,” she said.

In Manila, opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she had introduced a Senate resolution declaring July 12 as the “National West Philippine Sea Victory Day.” 

“Commemorating our 2016 victory every year can help weaken China’s spurious claims over our own territories,” she told reporters. “China has been continuously repeating its false claims, so it is high time that the public should learn about its rights in the West Philippine Sea.” 

Hontiveros’ Senate Resolution 674, highlights that the ruling on the landmark arbitration case, which declared that China’s claims were contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that China had breached her obligations with respect to the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the continental shelf and EEZ.  

“The government must take every possible action in the name of our national sovereignty,” she said. “Despite our historic win last 2016, China has continued to enter our EEZ, and drive away our fishermen and harass and bully our coast guard.” 

Hontiveros called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to raise the West Philippine Sea issue to the United Nations General Assembly. 

20230712 Protest at Chinese Consulate - jvc-2.jpg
Members of the Akbayan Party, a political group, take part in a protest at the Chinese Consulate in Makati City, Metro Manila, to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Philippines’ victory in a landmark international arbitration ruling over a territorial dispute with China, July 12, 2023. [Gerard Carreon/BenarNews]

His predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, initially ignored the arbitration ruling and preferred to mend bilateral and economic ties with Beijing.  Duterte issued a statement before the United Nations General Assembly in 2020, affirming that the ruling was “beyond compromise.”

Marcos recently traveled to the United States where he received assurances from President Joe Biden regarding Washington’s commitment to a decades-old mutual defense pact. 

In Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reiterated his country’s stance against the ruling.

“The award is illegal, null and void. China does not accept or recognize it, and will never accept any claim or action based on the award,” he told reporters.

China asserts most of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have territorial claims. Beijing for years has built artificial islands and militarized them, while deploying coast guard boats, navy ships and a state-backed maritime militia around disputed areas

Allies react  

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller reiterated his government’s support for the ruling which he said was “final and legally binding” to both the Philippines and China. 

“We continue to urge Beijing to comport its maritime claims with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention,” he said in a statement Wednesday, calling on Beijing to “cease routine harassment” of ships operating in their own EEZs.

UNCLOS was the basis of the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague seven years ago. The United States has not ratified UNCLOS but recognizes it as international law. 

Michèle Boccoz, France’s outgoing ambassador to the Philippines, declared that there was “no legal basis for China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea.”

“The peaceful resolution of disputes, based on the rule of law, is the very basis of the international order our nations established after two devastating world wars. For years now, this order has been challenged with increased determination and sophistication,” she said.


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