MANILA — Malacanang now relies on a “multilateral” approach as the way to move forward in the South China Sea territorial conflict, after President Duterte affirmed the country’s earlier victory over China at the United Nations (UN) arbitration court.
In his recent address before the UN General Assembly, Duterte asserted that the UN arbitral ruling “is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque described Duterte’s remarks “a perfect example” of making the international community recognize the validity of the arbitral ruling as part of international law, even as he said a “multilateral approach would be the best way to resolve the long-standing sea dispute.”
In an interview over CNN Philippines’ The Source, Roque said: “We can only rely on multilateralism right now, I don’t think we can even rely on unilateral use of force, not only is it prohibited under international law, but we also have limited means by way of that option and that has been stated by the President time and again.”
Roque said nothing much more that could be done on the country’s arbitral victory, besides multilateralism, since it already forms part of international law.
“It is a legal fact that forms part of international law. So the President only restated an established legal fact and nothing else has to be done because precisely nothing that any other country would do to undermine that award will ever have legal effect. They simply cannot erase that ruling,” he said.
Roque asserted that Duterte has always been consistent in his stand that no country can undermine the arbitral award. “We have never changed our position on the arbitral ruling. I have said it over and over again that there is nothing that can undermine that decision, it is evidence of customary law,” he added.
The Presidential spokesman stressed that since the dispute cannot be easily resolved, the country needs to proceed with other aspects of Philippine-China bilateral relations.
“If we cannot resolve territorial issues, then we can put it temporarily on hold and we will proceed on with matters that we can move forward, specifically trade and investment,” he said, noting that the “sea row is not the sum total of Philippine bilateral relations with China.”
“We would probably need to accept the fact that there will be no resolution in the near future as far as the territorial dispute is concerned but let’s proceed on matters that we could move forward like investment and trade,” he said.
Duterte’s assertion of the country’s sovereign rights over its claimed areas in the South China Sea was the very first time he made before the UN General Assembly.