Philippines to push for Code of Conduct in ASEAN
As the Philippines assumes the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, it will push for a framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea by the end of 2017, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Thursday.
In a press briefing in Malacanang, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo said the award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in July last year on the Philippines against China's nine-dash line in the South China Sea does not need to be discussed during the ASEAN meetings.
"The issue of the South China Sea, of course, is in the agenda of the ASEAN. In fact, we will be undertaking ongoing work throughout the year focusing on the unfinished Code of Conduct of the South China Sea and the Declaration of the Code of Conduct and the principles of the Code of Conduct," he said.
"In fact, one of our main goals this year in cooperation with China, not only Philippines but ASEAN and China, is to try and arrive at a framework for the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea by the end of the year, that will be one of our main priorities," he stressed.
There has been no progress after coming out with the Declaration of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002.
Asked if the Hague ruling would be discussed in the ASEAN Summit, Manalo said, "there's no need to really discuss The Hague ruling because it already exists. It's already part of the law, of the international law. So it's there and the focus...the priority now is to try and get a Code of Conduct."
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. had been criticized after he failed to stand firmly to include in the joint statement of the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Laos last year the PCA ruling against China's nine-dash line.
Manalo said it was not correct to say the Philippines failed in including the Hague ruling in the joint statement.
"Just to make a point, actually the Philippines did not fail. It's just there was no consensus because you know before we can get anything into an ASEAN, we need to have an ASEAN consensus," he said.
One of the six priorities that the Philippines will focus on during its ASEAN chairmanship is maritime security and cooperation, said Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar.
"Maritime security and cooperation ensures we protect our seas and the citizens who depend on it. Our fishermen and individuals who use these waters must be able to enjoy their rights and perform their tasks without feeling insecure about their safety," he said.
For a couple of years, Filipino fishermen failed to fish near the Scarborough Shoal in South China Sea because the Chinese coast guard had been shooing them away.
The Philippines and China were embroiled in a tense territorial dispute following their vessels' standoff in Scarborough Shoal in April 2012. Since that time China occupied the area, which is being claimed by the Philippines since it is within its 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone and the traditional fishing ground of the Filipinos.
The Aquino administration questioned before the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal China's nine-dash line, which practically covers the entire South China Sea. China did not participate in the proceedings and when the PCA ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidating the nine-dash line, Beijing continues to refuse it.
When President Rodrigo Duterte assumed his post, he vowed to have a "soft landing" with the Philippine relationship with China. He even embarked on a state visit to Beijing in October.
"Due to the importance of shipping and seaborne trade in the region, we will need to conduct a series of workshops and dialogues to strengthen maritime security and cooperation," Andanar said, citing that the ASEAN 2017 theme is "We Are Partners for Change, Engaging the World."
On January 15, the government will launch ASEAN 2017 in Davao City. On April 26-27, there will be ministerial meeting; April 28-29, ASEAN Summit; August 2-8, 50th ASEAN anniversary and ministerial meetings; and November 10-14 ,ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Clark, Pampanga. Celerina Monte/DMS