Locsin hits U.S. over sea convention

MANILA, Philippines - Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr on Thursday, August 22, criticized the United States over its failure to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), asserting that the international sea code was the "only cure" to uncertainties in maritime affairs.

"If only the greatest power on earth led by the example of subscribing to UNCLOS, it would be a safer world," Locsin said in a speech delivered before a room full of lawyers at the Asian Society of International Law 7th Biennial Conference in Quezon City.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of UNCLOS, known as the world's "constitution for the oceans". Unlike majority of countries which abide by the sea code, the United States has not ratified UNCLOS.

Despite this, the US remains one of the Philippines' major allies as it earlier reaffirmed it would defend Philippine forces in case of an armed attack in the South China Sea, including the portion Filipinos call the West Philippine Sea. 

In his speech, Locsin pointed out that despite the "near universal acceptance by 168 states parties [of UNCLOS], the most imminent and potentially the most disastrous dangers in our world today pertain to marine and maritime affairs." These included current disputes in the South China Sea, he said. 

In his speech, Locsin talks about the place of Asian values in international law - touching on treaties, cooperation, and the need to come up with solutions through “common consent” @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/RsmPV8hVtP — Sofia Tomacruz (@sofiatomacruz) August 22, 2019

The top diplomat then made reference to countries that did not abide by international law despite ratifying it.

"If only we respected pacta sunt servanda (agreement must be kept) in our obligations under UNCLOS, there would be less animosity with its greater likelihood of conflict," Locsin said.

Among the countries accused of disregarding the rules under the UNCLOS is China, which claims a vast majority of the South China Sea on the basis of a supposedly historical 9-dash line. The Asian giant remains embroiled in disputes over the maritime area with several claimant countries including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

China continues to be called out for the increasing militarization of its reclaimed islands and reefs as well as for employing aggressive tactics that heighten tensions in the South China Sea.

The Philippines filed a historic arbitration case against China, which it won in 2016.

The Philippines' lawyer, Paul Reichler, earlier urged the US to ratify UNCLOS to pressure China to heed the law. Reichler said it was "a political argument, not a legal one."

Locsin's remarks came after the Philippines filed a series of diplomatic protests against China over the presence of its warships and survey vessels in Philippine waters. Philippine officials expressed concern over the frequency of such sightings, with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana describing the situation as "alarming." (LIST: China's incursions in Philippine waters)

Under the Duterte administration, the Philippines has fostered friendlier ties with China as President Rodrigo Duterte chose to downplay a decades-long sea dispute in exchange for loans and grants from Beijing. The pivot towards China came as Duterte threw tirades against the US. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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