Malacanang said Wednesday “no one can diminish” the 5-year-old arbitral award that junked Beijing’s sweeping maritime claims to the West Philippine Sea, despite China’s recent remark that the award was a piece of “wastepaper.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian, on the fifth anniversary of the ruling on Monday, said the arbitration award was “illegal, null and void.”
“It is nothing more than a piece of wastepaper,” he said at a press briefing, quoted by multiple news reports.
This emerged as the Philippine government welcomed the United States’ “open support” for the 2016 landmark ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims under its so-called nine-dash line map in the South China Sea.
“[W]e welcome the United States’ open support for the 2016 Arbitral Award. It is binding international law and the most authoritative application of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) on the maritime entitlements of features in the South China Sea,” Foreign Secretary Teodro Locsin Jr. said in his intervention at the Special Association of Southeast Asian (Asean)-US Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
Locsin stressed the decision “contributes to the rules-based order in Asean and benefits all the countries that use the vital artery that is the South China Sea” and that the rest is “bluster.”
He also thanked the US for its “reaffirmation with greater clarity” of its commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty.
“In the Southeast Asian context, that translates to keeping the peace and maintaining stability without pointless distractions. Thank you,” he said.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque immediately responded and quoted President Rodrigo Duterte’s remark in September last year before the United Nations General Assembly, where he said the Philippines “firmly reject[s] attempts to undermine” the ruling.
“The President in the UN said it (the award) forms part of international law, and no one can diminish that,” Roque said in a press briefing.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that Beijing had no historic title over the South China Sea, as it claims.
It also said China had interfered with traditional Philippine fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
On the fifth anniversary of the arbitral tribunal ruling on July 12, State Secretary Antony Blinken repeated Washington’s commitment to protect the country during an armed attack against its public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea.
He also cited the Hague-based court’s ruling that China has “no lawful claim” to the areas that fall within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
“The PRC (People’s Republic of China) and the Philippines, pursuant to their treaty obligations under the Law of the Sea Convention, are legally bound to comply with this decision,” Blinken said in his July 12 statement.
“The United States reaffirms its July 13, 2020 policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea. We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” he added.
The Chinese government, meanwhile, insists that the decision is “illegal” and that it will not recognize it.
Aside from the US, the European Union and various nations such as Germany, Canada, France, Japan, Australia, and Denmark have acknowledged the ruling, joining the Philippines in celebrating its fifth anniversary last Monday.
In related developments, Roque stressed it was important to accord China the “presumption of good faith” while the Philippine authorities are verifying the waste dumping issue.
“The responsible answer is we’re verifying first. We will react if it’s been verified. We have to accord our neighbors and our friends the presumption of good faith when they say something about an issue of fact,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
He added that the Palace was only being “responsible” before releasing statements.
Roque said the Philippines, particularly in the case of Canada, only condemned it for illegally shipping tons of garbage to Manila from 2013 to 2014 after verifying reports.
In May 2019, the Philippines started returning dozens of shipping containers full of trash to Canada.
This, after Duterte threatened to sail with the waste and leave it in Canadian waters.
Roque said the government would never allow the country to be made into a dumping site of foreigners.
“We have long stood on the fact that the country is not a dumping site and of course not a toilet. Let’s see first if there is truth to these reports because if there are none, we would be embarrassed),” he added.
On Tuesday, the Department of National Defense said it was currently looking into reports of alleged human waste dumping by Chinese vessels in the WPS.
“We have taken note of the news circulating online about the alleged dumping of waste in the South China Sea. Be that as it may, I have directed the Western Command who has jurisdiction over the WPS to verify and investigate,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.
Liz Derr, US-based expert and founder and CEO of Simularity, which specializes in geospatial analysis and provides satellite data imagery, on Monday revealed that Chinese ships have been dumping raw sewage every day for several years on reefs, creating harmful chlorophyll blooms in the waters.
“It is so intense you can see it from space,” Derr told an online forum hosted by the Stratbase ADR Institute on the 5th anniversary of the Philippines’ landmark arbitral tribunal victory against China on July 12.
China, which has long laid claim over nearly the entire South China Sea, has expanded its military presence in the area by turning several former reefs into artificial islands.
Simularity said they welcomed any investigation into the methods and results that they use following the allegation that their report lacks basis and “fake”.
“We welcome investigation into the methods and results of our research, as it is all reproducible, based on publicly available sources, and the approach and interpretation are validated by readily available scientific papers, many of which we credit as sources in our report,” Simularity said in a statement posted on its website.
Amid the report of dumping of human wastes in the West Philippine Sea, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will test the sea’s water quality.
Undersecretary Benny Antiporda vowed to act on accusations that Chinese ships anchored in the South China Sea and portions of the West Philippine Sea had dumped raw sewage every day in the past years.
“Since there is such an allegation, we will have that checked. We will look into the nearest area where we could probably get a water sampling,” he said.