MANILA – Former Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja Jr. hailed as a “significant first step” President Rodrigo Duterte’s invoking of the 2016 arbitral award on the South China Sea before the UN General Assembly on Wednesday morning.
“He could have been more forceful in espousing our cause, in much the same vein that he was forceful in the question of drugs and human rights. But as a first step, it’s a significant first step,” he said in a CNN Philippines interview.
For the first time in history, the Philippines brought the issue of the West Philippine Sea to the UN years after the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China’s expansive claims in the region are illegal.
During the 75th Session of the General Assembly in New York early Wednesday, the chief executive underscored that the landmark decision “is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon”.
“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” he said.
With this development, Baja said it is now with the government agencies to double its efforts and make the subject a future UN agenda item.
“We must be prepared to take further steps to concretize what the President has just said and that will take a lot of preparations and negotiations with other delegations. (We must) ensure that the issue will become an agenda with the UN,” he said.
Baja wished Duterte could have called out China “to adhere to a decision of a UN body, to respect the provisions of UNCLOS, to refrain from what they are doing now in the area and other concerns which we have been espousing”.
“But as I have said, the fact that he mentioned this is a significant first step,” he said.
Overall, Baja noted that Duterte’s first address before the UN General Assembly was “comprehensive” and “authentic”.
“For the first time, the Philippines brought the issue of the West Philippine Sea to the UN that’s one, he talked about a comprehensive list of global concerns which particularly affects the Philippines, he even talked of UN reform to make it a more effective body which is a great transformation for President Rodrigo Duterte,” he said.
“He talked about human rights, the Covid pandemic, migration, even our UN peacekeeping forces, and a whole lot of other global and regional issues– it’s a comprehensive and authentic and convincing statement. It was a pleasant surprise for us,” he added.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio on Wednesday also commended Duterte’s “strong stand” that the arbitral award in the South China Sea is “beyond compromise”.
“I fervently hope that this is the policy that the Duterte administration will implement across all levels – in the protection of our exclusive economic zone in the West Philippines Sea, in the negotiations for the Code of Conduct, and in gathering the support of the international community for the enforcement of the arbitral award,” he said.
Former Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario likewise welcomed Duterte’s move to invoke the landmark decision.
“This is the first time that our President addressed the UNGA and we are heartened to know that he is not at all impervious but listens to the will of his countrymen,” he said.
Del Rosario said the next step is for the government to “put in reality” the invocation of the landmark ruling and to “work earnestly” to get the support of more countries for the next UNGA.
“All Filipinos should now unite so that the world will help our country enforce the Arbitral Award against China. Let us not allow this opportunity to be put to waste,” he said. “We deeply thank you, Mr. President, for defending what is ours.” Joyce Ann L. Rocamora / PNA – northboundasia.com