Senators to China: Follow ruling on West PH Sea case

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Senators on Tuesday, July 12, lauded the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling in favor of the Philippines involving the historic case filed against China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), saying the Asian giant should comply with the decision.

In a statement, Senate President Franklin Drilon said the PCA's "final and binding ruling" clarifies both claims of the Philippines and China on the disputed waters.

Drilon called on other nations to respect the decision and maintain the rule of law.

"We hope that the decision puts to rest any tension, mends strained relations, and restores goodwill among countries in the region. ASEAN and China can now move forward to finalize the Code of Conduct to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea," he added.

The Senate leader said the Philippine government will "study" the ruling and its effects, in the hope of a peaceful settlement.

"The Philippines will study the ruling and its ramifications, and plan its next steps, bearing in mind the utmost need for peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law and the maintenance of friendly relations among nations," he added.

Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, who is believed to replace Drilon as Senate President once 17th Congress starts, shared the same sentiment towards China.

Now that the PCA upheld the Philippines' "power of control" over some areas in the West Philippine Sea, Pimentel said China and other states should respect the decision.

"We call on China and other States to respect such a reasonable and objective ruling. As we have shown by filing ths case, the Philippines is a responsible law abiding State and we will always do our share in promoting a just international order," Pimentel said in a Facebook post.

Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV, for his part, said there is no question that China must comply with the decision. China again said on Tuesday, following the announcement of the PCA, that it "does not accept and does not recognize" the ruling.

"The international tribunal has backed our claim and it's clear that China must comply as a member of the community of nations," Aquino said in a statement.

Aquino also congratulated the Philippine delegation under the administration of his cousin, former president Benigno Aquino III, that tirelessly worked on the case. 

He maintained the ruling would be advantageous for the country in future multilateral or bilateral talks with other nations.

"Congratulations to the Philippine delegation that worked on our case and all our countrymen who stood by our claim over the West Philippine Sea! Hindi madaling makipagtunggali sa bansang mas malaki at mas malakas sa atin, ngunit kailangang maging matapang (It isn't easy to challenge a country bigger and more powerful than ours, but we have to be brave)," Aquino said.

He added: "This decision provides the best chance for the Philippines to have a favorable outcome in any future multilateral or bilateral talks. Alas natin 'to (This is the ace up our sleeve)!"

Senator Risa Hontiveros said China, as a world power, should comply with the ruling to show its commitment to peace.

"As a regional leader and emergent global power, China must prove to the international community that it abides by the international law and is committed to regional peace," she said.

The decision, Hontiveros added, should be a signal to China "to end its bullying and militarist expansion in the region." 

Newly-elected Senator Joel Villanueva also urged China to respect international law.

"I call on China to respect the Tribunal's decision and for both parties to work together for our mutual benefit as all neighbors must," he said.

Villanueva added that the decision is not only a victory for the country but also for the rule of law.

"I applaud the Philippine government's commitment to the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes with our neighbors by invoking the Tribunal's jurisdiction. This is a victory not only for the Philippines but more importantly for the rule of law," he said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan agreed and said the decision would give the Philippines "more equal footing" in the "inevitable bilateral talks" with its neighbor.

Pangilinan maintained the country would ensure two things in talks with China – protection of maritime environment and ecology as well as livelihood of Filipino fishermen. 

He added that the decision would also serve as a "reboot" for diplomatic ties between Manila and Beijing.

"Together with having a new administration, the ruling allows both parties to come to the negotiating table with fresh perspectives. I suggest we remind China of the centuries' old people-to-people interactions between our nations, and of the similar historical indignities we faced as colonies of foreign powers. Of the latter, we can tell them that their occupation of the reefs in the West Philippine Sea resonates to that past."

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, meanwhile, said the historic decision is a "vindication" of the foreign policy direction of the Aquino administration. Trillanes previously led backchannel talks with China.

"The landmark decision of the arbitral tribunal is a historic victory for our country. Equally important is that, based on early reports, it is definitive, categorical and expectedly upheld the provisions of UNCLOS which could help the Duterte administration in pursuing the next course of action," Trillanes said.

Duterte administration

Senator Leila De Lima, member of the Philippine delegation, said the ruling, hopefully, would "properly guide" the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte in its next moves.

Duterte had repeatedly expressed desire to have bilateral talks with China – something that the Aquino government frowned upon.

"With this ruling, it is hoped that the present administration will be properly guided in its future actions, especially in its declared bias for bilateral talks which has only proven to be always one-sided in favor of the world power at the other end of the table," De Lima said.

The former Justice Secretary said the decision would give the Philippines an edge over China. She then urged the nation, its allies, and the international community to use the ruling in defending sovereignty in the disputed waters.

"This ruling gives us the international legal basis under the UNCLOS to challenge China's further expansionist moves. Together with our western allies like the United States, Japan, and the international community in general, we should utilize this ruling to the utmost in defense of our sovereignty, EEZ entitlements, and freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea," she said.

Neophyte Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, for his part, challenged the President to defend the country's rights from "further illegal intrusions" of China in the West Philippine Sea.

"Armed with this decisive ruling, the Duterte administration must uphold and defend our rights in the West Philippine Sea against any further aggression on the part of the People's Republic of China," said Gatchalian.

For Hontiveros, the administration should "capitalize" on the ruling to strengthen international public opinion in favor of the Philippines. The same decision, she said, could be used to mobilize allies. 

"This historic win must be strengthened by the new government. To deviate from the spirit of this ruling would render the victory hollow and our sovereignty compromised," she said.

"I also encourage the government to craft an interdependent and progressive foreign policy guided by the Hague ruling. It should serve as the administration's reference to upholding national sovereignty and territorial integrity in the region," she added.

Senator Grace Poe maintained that the ruling is "binding" and would then help the government follow a definite guide in dealing with China on the issue of the disputed waters.

It is highly important for the administration, she said, to "fully comply" with the decision.

"The Tribunal’s ruling is no paper judgment. Our government should exhaust all avenues and encourage full compliance of the decision through peaceful and diplomatic means," Poe said.

Pimentel shared the same sentiment, adding the government should now "peacefully assert" its right for the benefit of local fishermen.

Our government should now find ways to peacefully assert this power of control immediately for the benefit of our fishermen and in the long term for the benefit of future generations of Filipinos who may discover the yet unknown riches of ths exclusive economic zone (EEZ). – 

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.