Duterte’s UN address shows government’s consistent stand on Hague victory vs. China – Palace

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Malacañang denies that the current administration has ever set aside the Philippines’ arbitral win against the East Asian giant, saying the 2016 ruling is already established as a 'legal fact' recognized by international laws.(FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 23)— President Rodrigo Duterte was able to assert his consistent stand on the Philippines’ South China Sea arbitral victory against China when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time since his tenure, Malacañang said Wednesday.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, his spokesperson Harry Roque denied that the current administration has ever set aside the Philippines’ arbitral win against the East Asian giant, saying the 2016 ruling is already established as a “legal fact” recognized by international laws.

He maintained Duterte would have also come up with the same pronouncement if the latter had decided to speak before the 193-member bloc in previous years.

“It’s the first time that the President spoke in UN General Assembly. So it’s the first time that the President was able to say what has been his consistent position all along,” Roque said in interview with The Source.

“We have never changed our position on the arbitral ruling… We are not setting it aside. The thing is, you don’t set aside a legal fact. Nothing that any other country will do can ever affect the fact that it’s already there, that there’s a ruling on the matter already that forms part of international law,” he stressed.

Duterte, in his debut at the global body’s 75th general debate early Wednesday (Philippine time), reaffirmed the arbitral victory on the South China Sea case, adding that the country rejects any attempt to undermine the said award.

Duterte’s stance was a welcome development for experts and officials who have long urged him to raise the ruling to the international body. It proves to be a “significant step” for the Philippines’ fight to assert its territorial sovereignty, the country’s former ambassador to the UN Lauro Baja Jr. told CNN Philippines separately.

RELATED: Duterte's UN speech on sea row: 'A few years late, but still a significant step' — ex-envoy

Earlier, the Philippines and China previously maintained they will “agree to disagree” on the decision to make way for cooperation. In September 2019, Duterte also agreed to shelve the ruling to pursue activities with Beijing, including joint oil and gas exploration.

The ruling by the international arbitral tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea invalidated China's sweeping claims to the South China Sea. It also recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone where China has built artificial islands, prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing, and interfered in petroleum exploration.

Roque, for his part, maintained that military occupation and other related activities currently taking place in the area will not change the fact that the country logged the said victory in the international court.

“Even if they resort to the use of force… even if they forcibly occupy all the disputed territories, that will have no effect as far as international law is concerned, because military activities and even military occupation will never have any legal effect as far as title is concerned,” Roque said.

No resolution in the near future

Meanwhile, Roque admitted that the Philippines may not see a resolution on the sea row in the near future, especially with China repeatedly refusing to acknowledge the landmark decision.

Despite this, the spokesperson said the country will still push through with other activities that strengthen its bilateral relations with China, particularly in investment and trade.

He stressed that the South China Sea issue is not the “sum total” of the Philippines’ relationship with the economic powerhouse.

“If we cannot resolve territorial issues, then we can put it temporarily on hold, and we will proceed with matters that we can move forward, specifically trade and investment," Roque said.

"It is not the sum total of our bilateral relationship with China, but of course, it’s important that the President restate a legal fact."