Should Aquino admin be blamed for Scarborough loss? Ex-envoy weighs in

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 7) — Since taking office, President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly blamed the Aquino administration for the loss of Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) to China and for allowing Beijing's reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea up until now.

But for former Philippine envoy to the United Nations Lauro Baja, more than a blame game, the government should instead move forward and exhaust all possible remedies to enforce the United Nations-backed arbitral ruling that upheld the Philippines' victory before it's too late.

"We should not go back. We should at most learn some lessons from that and move forward on how to enforce the arbitral tribunal," Baja told CNN Philippines' The Source on Friday.

Baja said the government could have also made some concrete measures after Duterte already affirmed the arbitral ruling before the United Nations General Assembly last year. He also expressed disappointment with Duterte's recent statement that the arbitral win is a mere "piece of paper" that can be thrown in a "waste basket."

"It’s unfortunate that the President said that the ruling is a mere scrap of paper. It’s true, it’s a scrap of paper but it’s a scrap of a paper which must be welcomed, treasured, protected and enforced," he said. "To say that it should be thrown in a waste basket, it’s just mouthing China’s line of diplomatizing."

In 2016, the arbitral tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea largely ruled in favor of the Philippines in its case against China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea. It invalidated Beijing's "historic rights" claim to nearly the entire waterway and recognized Philippine sovereign rights in areas within its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf that China contests. Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.

Scarborough Shoal — which lies 124 nautical miles west of Zambales province and within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone — is in the West Philippine Sea.

China now controls the shoal after Philippine ships facing Chinese vessels pulled out from the area in 2012. But the tribunal held that Filipino fishermen had traditional fishing rights in the area, and China should not interfere with those rights.

READ: West Philippine Sea 101: Scarborough Shoal 

Duterte had accused retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario of having a hand in the withdrawal of Philippine ships from Scarborough Shoal following a standoff with China. Carpio denied this and dared Duterte to resign if he's proven to be lying.

Del Rosario said the United States brokered an agreement with China and the Philippines in 2012 to settle the impasse, which involves pulling out all ships from the area. China, however, "deceitfully breached" the deal, he added.

The President has nurtured friendly ties with China, and has previously said there was no way the Philippines could reclaim areas occupied by Beijing in the West Philippine Sea "without bloodshed."

He also denied making a campaign promise to ride a jetski to plant the Philippine flag on man-made islands occupied by China.