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Manila asked to take sea dispute with China to UN General Assembly

By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

A PHILIPPINE senator has called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to seek the help of the United Nations (UN) in putting a stop to Chinese harassment of Filipino vessels in the South China Sea.

The senator filed Senate Resolution 659, urging the Philippine government to sponsor a resolution before the UN General Assembly asking China to stop harassing the Philippine Coast Guard in the disputed water.

“As far back as 2016, through the landmark ruling, it has been established that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights over Filipino resources,” Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said in a statement on Monday. 

“It has also been proven that China breached its obligations under international law when it violated our sovereign rights over our continental shelf and exclusive economic zone,” she added.

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio last month urged the government to submit a resolution to the UN.

“Internationalizing the Hague Ruling using the UN General Assembly resolutions would mean a huge recognition for the legal victory of the Philippines,” Chester B. Cabalza, founder of the Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

Ms. Hontiveros said that UN General Assembly resolutions “carry significant political weight” and would serve as a consensus of the international community on the dispute.

But Mr. Cabalza said China has ignored the UN ruling, adding that the arbitration court failed to stop Beijing from its military expansion at sea.

China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain massive oil and gas deposits and through which billions of dollars in trade passes each year.

It has ignored the 2016 ruling by the United Nations-backed arbitration court that voided its claim based on a 1940s map.

The Philippines has been unable to enforce the ruling and has since filed hundreds of protests over what it calls encroachment and harassment by China’s coast guard and its vast fishing fleet. 

Last week, civilian vessel BRP Malapascua was shadowed by vessels of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG).

“A policy of appeasement is a doorway to disaster,” Akbayan Party President Rafaela David said, citing former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s lukewarm stance on the dispute.

“The time has come to bring the weight of the international community to bear and take China to task,” she added.

Mr. Cabalza noted that if other countries, even those economically supported by China, would recognize the UN decision, Beijing would have to comply with the resolution.

“The world has spoken to give its support for the Philippines and Beijing must obey the rule of law of humanity.”

The Philippines sent 262 note verbales to China from 2016 to 2021, DFA said in January. It had filed 68 diplomatic protests under the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.

The Philippines has placed navigational buoys within its exclusive economic zone to assert sovereignty over the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea, a coast guard spokesperson said on Sunday.

The step comes amid China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea as Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. pursues warmer ties with treaty ally the United States.
The Philippine Coast Guard set up five buoys carrying the national flag on May 10 to 12 in five areas within the 200-mile (322-km) zone, including Whitsun Reef, where hundreds of Chinese maritime vessels moored in 2021.

In May 2022, the Philippine Coast Guard installed five navigational buoys on four islands in the Spratlys.

In February, the Philippine Coast Guard released a video showing the Chinese Coast Guard’s use of a military-grade laser to harass a Philippine ship supporting resupply mission at the Second Thomas Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. 

The coast guard has called China’s use of laser “a clear violation of Philippine sovereign rights.” China has rejected the claim, saying the use of laser was meant to “ensure navigation safety.”

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the Spratlys, where China has dredged sand to build islands on reefs and equipped them with missiles and runways.

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