President Duterte, in a speech broadcast at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on September 23, affirmed the country’s commitments to the Charter of the UN, to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to the Arbitral Award of July 12, 2016.
His statement affirming the Arbitral Award was immediately welcomed by critics who had earlier accused him of maintaining close ties with China despite the award. “Alipin no more,” said one senator in a tweet.
Actually, presidential spokesman Harry Roque pointed out, the President merely said the Arbitral Ruling is now part of international law: “The award is now… beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it.”
There is so much misunderstanding and misconception about that 2016 Arbitral Ruling. It focused on three basic points:
— The arbitral court ruled that China has “no historical rights” based on its “nine-dash line” to claim sovereignty over some 90 percent of the South China Sea.
— It said it would not “rule on any question of sovereignty over land territory and would not delimit any maritime boundary between the parties.”
— The Philippines has “sovereign rights” to living resources within its 12-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and to non-living resources of its continental shelf. This means the right to fish, to develop energy from the waters and winds over the EEZ, and mineral resources in the land beneath the waters of the EEZ. The Arbitral Court ruling thus rejected China’s territorial claim in the South China Sea. It did not rule on any other nation’s territorial claim.
The ruling on the Philippines’ EEZ was on the right to develop its resources. It was not a ruling upholding part of it as Philippine territory.
Thus presidential spokesman Roque was right in pointing out that “we have never changed our position on the South China Sea ruling.” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. added: President Duterte was never an “alipin” to China.
President Duterte’s speech before the 75th session of the UN General Assembly upholding the Arbitral Court decision was thus a reiteration of the position he has taken from the beginning – that while it did not rule in favor of any Philippine territorial claim while rejecting China’s nine-dash claim, the whole thing is now open to negotiation among the various nations with conflicting claims in the South China Sea.
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