FOREIGN Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on Saturday said a joint communiqué issued by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) during a meeting in Laos did not weaken the claim of the Philippines in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
He made the statement a day after outgoing Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario criticized him for his supposedly weak stance on a sea dispute between the Philippines and three other claimants–Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The two diplomats of the previous Aquino administration on Friday said Yasay should have insisted on the inclusion of the arbitral award by a UN tribunal in the Asean statement.
“It seems our interest is not really being very strongly protected,” Cuisia said.
Del Rosario added, “[Yasay] should have stood strongly.”
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recently nullified China’s excessive claim in the South China Sea, upholding the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) that gives the Philippines the right to areas within 200 nautical miles of its coastline.
In Laos, foreign ministers of the 10-member regional bloc only expressed serious concern over recent developments in the South China Sea that have “eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”
It reaffirmed “shared commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes” in accordance with the principles of international law, including the Unclos.
For Yasay, the statement of the Asean “did not in any way weaken the legal foundations of our claim and the award given to us by the arbitral tribunal,” he said in a lengthy text message.
He believes that the communiqué was still a “resounding diplomatic triumph” for the bloc in joining Manila’s allies and the international community “in urging China to uphold international and respect the processes and mechanisms under Unclos in resolving the dispute in the [South China Sea/West Philippine Sea], which implicitly called for respect of the ruling of the arbitral tribunal.”
Yasay said he hopes that “[Cuisia] knows what he is talking about.”
He earlier told a news conference that he “vigorously” pushed for the inclusion of the arbitral award in the Asean statement but knew there was “middle ground.”
Yasay hit back at Cuisia and del Rosario for their supposed failure to appreciate the worded statement.
“My predecessors failed to get this vital united statement from Asean because of their hardline approach not realizing that there are many ways to skin the cat,” he said.
Yasay explained that the communiqué conveyed “the same core message they wanted to obtain which is to urge China to respect the 1982 Unclos and the processes prescribed therein including compulsory arbitration toward settlement of disputes in the world’s seas and oceans.”