The Duterte administration has missed the opportunity to assert the country’s rightful claim over the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS) in the recently-concluded meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) hosted by the Philippines, Senator Leila M. de Lima has said.
De Lima noted the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), under Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, seemingly refused to assert Philippines’ territorial claims over WPS in exchange for China’s “continued patronage” of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“The Duterte government’s client-state status vis-à-vis China continues to cost the Philippines its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims in the [South China Sea] SCS/WPS, including rights over fishery and energy resources, simply because China is willing to ignore the Philippine human rights crisis under Duterte,” she said in a Dispatch from Crame No. 132.
“And, at the same time, serve as the Duterte government’s remaining link to the international community, after PH global isolation due to its continued state-sanctioned human rights violations,” she added.
China previously claimed its “indisputable sovereignty” over the entire SCS/WPS through the establishment of its Nine-Dash-Line claim.
Even with the decision of United Nations (UN) Arbitral Tribunal invalidating China’s claim and ruling that Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over WPS, China refuses to comply with the verdict.
While President Rodrigo Duterte’s first state visit to Beijing on October last year led to his more cordial relation with China, the meeting still did not prompt China to withdraw its irrational claim over the disputed waters.
By failing to stand against Chinese incursion in the WPS, De Lima said the Duterte administration is indirectly giving up Philippines’ claims over the Spratlys Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and the country’s entire EEZ in the SCS/WPS.
“The Philippines is probably the only country who has disowned its own victory in an international case of historical significance. It is ironic that after winning the legal battle against China’s ridiculous Nine-Dash-Line claim, the PH becomes the very first country to give up this victory and begin a policy of kowtowing to China, even granting it access not only to our EEZ territories, but also to our infrastructure projects as the main financial provider and contractor of the Philippine government,” she said.
De Lima, a former Justice Secretary, said the Duterte government has relinquished its role of fighting against Chinese domination to Vietnam, who also made competing territorial claims over the WPS/SCS.
“The Duterte government and DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano have not only completely relinquished the Philippines’ lead role in ASEAN of countering China’s ambition of regional domination. They have accomplished more than that. The DFA under Cayetano has become China’s spokesperson in ASEAN, more than Laos and Cambodia, China’s traditional ASEAN allies,” she said.
“In the meantime, until the next Philippine regime-change, the lead ASEAN role in opposing Chinese hegemony in the SCS belongs to Vietnam. [But] I am confident that in the future the Philippines will re-join Vietnam in guarding the SCS/WPS against Chinese domination, at least in the diplomatic and legal arena,” she added.
Leaders from 27 countries gathered in Manila for the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings last Aug. 2 to 8 at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila.
De Lima has always maintained her innocence from all the false illegal drug charges filed against her by the Duterte administration, based on fabricated evidence and perjured testimonies of convicted criminals.