DFA chief cites EU support to sea claim case, Yolanda victims

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario expressed appreciation for the support of the European Union (EU) to the Philippines’ arbitration case involving a dispute with China on overlapping claims to the South China Sea during a recent meeting between foreign ministers of the Asean and the union in Brussels.

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In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said del Rosario also thanked the foreign ministers “for their strong support to rebuild in the aftermath” of Typhoon Yolanda, which devastated the Philippines in November 2013.

The Philippines filed an arbitration case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to invalidate China’s nine-dash line claim that covers 90 percent of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

China refused to participate in the arbitration, although the Philippines had also received international support from the United States and several stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region.

Taiwan and three fellow members of the Philippines in the Asean–Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Vietnam–and Taiwan are also claimants to the resource-rich sea.

Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) also groups Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

Beijing’s perceived aggressiveness in its claim has raised stakes in the region, which recently became high-risk for potential armed conflict between the claimants, their allies and those with strategic interests in the trade-significant sea lane.

The DFA statement said sideline talks during the Asean-EU Foreign Ministers Meeting (AEMM) in the Belgian capital on July 23 provided an opportunity for del Rosario “to present the Philippine official position on and promote better understanding of the developments in the West Philippine Sea.”

He specifically told German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier about rising tensions in disputed waters.

Del Rosario met separately with Maltese Foreign Minister George Vella, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.

He is expected to again raise regional and territorial issues during the Asean Regional Forum in August in Myanmar.

Del Rosario, a source said, is pushing for implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct, an expeditious conclusion of the Code of Conduct and a permanent solution to territorial disputes.

He sought his counterparts’ continued support for the country’s efforts to hurdle EU requirements on compliance with the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Convention while informing them of progress in Manila’s preparations for a visit of an inspection team from the European Maritime Safety Agency at the end of September.

With Steinmeier, del Rosario noted robust cooperation between Germany and the Philippines in light of the 60th anniversary of bilateral relations this year.

He met with the Maltese foreign minister and obtained Valetta’s assistance in evacuation of Filipinos from Libya, citing mandatory evacuation declared by the Philippines there.

Del Rosario and Vella recalled the cooperation extended by the Maltese government in 2011 when Filipinos used Malta as their transit point when they were evacuated from Libya at the height of the civilian unrest in that country.

He also cited the importance of Malta’s intervention in the Philippines’ compliance with the convention’s requirements.

Del Rosario and newly-appointed Hammond committed “to work together to further strengthen bilateral cooperation on all fronts.”

He and Margallo reaffirmed ties, also recalling Margallo’s visit to Manila last March to inaugurate a center in Pampanga where Spanish relief goods would be stored for use during disasters.

Del Rosario also met with Malaysian Deputy Foreign Minister Dato Hamzah Zainudin to convey the Philippines’ condolences and solidarity with Malaysia for the tragic loss of lives on board Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 that crashed to the ground after being recently shot down by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The crash killed three Filipinos onboard.

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