DFA exec: West Philippine Sea dispute an election issue

By Judy Flores-Partlow

DUMAGUETE CITY, July 23 (PNA) –- Assistant Secretary Charles Jose of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has lobbied to make the West Philippine Sea territorial dispute with China an election issue as the country gears up for the 2016 presidential and national polls.

The DFA official sounded off his call as he met with multiple sectors in two separate forums on the West Philippine Sea in Dumaguete City, the capital of Negros Oriental, on Thursday.

The West Philippine Sea territorial dispute with China is certainly an issue that political candidates must address during the upcoming elections, Assistant Secretary Jose said.

According to him, a change in the country’s administration could also lead to a different method of pursuing the Philippines’ case on territorial sovereignty of the West Philippine Sea (also known as the South China Sea) against China.

It all depends on the newly elected president and what approach he or she would deem best in fighting for the Philippines’ claim of the West Philippine Sea that China is describing as an indisputable sovereignty, Jose said.

Currently, the United Nations arbitral tribunal is hearing the case filed by the Philippines against China over the disputed portion of the South China Sea, with oral arguments presented in early July in The Hague, Netherlands.

The new Philippines president could well opt for bilateral negotiations instead if that person believes it is the best approach to the West Philippine Sea dispute, said Jose.

He therefore emphasized that the public must ask their candidates what their positions are or would be on the maritime territorial dispute with China.

The DFA executive said he believes China is interested in the forthcoming elections in the Philippines.

He, however, expressed optimism that in early 2016, there will be a final decision by the international arbiters favoring the Philippines on the dispute.

This, even as Beijing has repeatedly announced it is not participating in the arbitration process and will not recognize any decision the international tribunal will come up with, Jose added.

Regardless, a decision from the international court would be a solid move to eventually resolve the row between China and the Philippines, he stressed.

China cannot insist on what it keeps on bringing into play as indisputable sovereignty if the international court’s decision says otherwise, Jose added.

Assistant Secretary Jose, who is leading a nationwide series of forums and similar information, education and awareness campaigns on the West Philippine Sea, explained to a diverse group at a local hotel in Dumaguete that there are five key issues presented to the international arbitral tribunal.

These are China’s historical rights, its 9-dash line, maritime features to include islands, rocks and other formations partially or fully submerged, China’s breach of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its “provocative” actions that threaten the environment, such as the building of artificial islands.

The Philippines could lose up to 80 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with five million Filipinos directly or indirectly dependent on the seas, he said.

If the international tribunal grants three or four out of the five key areas, “we would be happy with that”, according to ASEC Jose.

“Then we will pursue the (other) issues that the tribunal will that they have jurisdiction on”, he added.

Asked about a worst case scenario, ASEC Jose’s answer was, “we don’t have any”.

“We all have a good case and we will get a favorable ruling” from the international arbiters, an optimistic Jose stressed. (PNA)