MANILA, Philippines – Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario on Friday, August 17, commended President Rodrigo Duterte's recent remark urging China to "temper" its frequent warnings to planes and ships passing over or through the South China Sea.
"We want to respectfully commend President Duterte on his recent remarks about China's aggressive and unlawful behavior in the South China Sea," Del Rosario said during an Stratbase ADR Institute forum on Friday.
He added, "Nine out of 10 Filipinos would be encouraged and inspired by this manifestation of our President's positive leadership."
In a rare criticism of China, Duterte on Tuesday, August 14, said China should "temper" its frequent warnings to planes and ships traversing the South China Sea. The Philippines claims part of these waters as the West Philippine Sea.
"You cannot create an island and you say that the air above the artificial island is your own. That is wrong. The right to innocent passage is guaranteed," Duterte said.
CNN and the Associated Press earlier reported how China radioed warnings against US and Philippine planes flying over the South China Sea.
On Friday, Del Rosario – a vocal critic of the President's approach to the West Philippine Sea issue – said that if the Philippines truly respects the rule of law, the country should "actively seek to end any unlawful and aggressive attack to the rules-based international system."
Part of the rules-based system is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Hague ruling of July 12, 2016, on the South China Sea.
"The Filipinos have the moral high ground. The Filipinos have the law on their side. We are in the right. Let us therefore speak with one voice – that adherence to the rule of law is the only way forward," Del Rosario said on Friday.
Not an empty victory
But Del Rosario, who was the country's foreign secretary when the Philippines decided to file its historic case against China, made an apparent reference to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who earlier said that the Philippines won an "empty victory" at The Hague.
"At the risk of sounding repetitive, the arbitral ruling is not an empty victory. Any person who views it as such carries the voice of China," he said on Friday. (READ: Lorenzana starting to sound like China, says Del Rosario)
"Let us not be willing victims by supporting and fueling China's non-adherence to the rule of law. Concomitantly, we cannot remain silent."
Del Rosario then warned against acquiescence and being silent.
"By being silent, we have weaponized an aggressor to do more harm. By being silent, we have encouraged further aggression into our territories and marine resources. As any responsible nation would do, we must act with peaceful resistance against threats to our sovereign rights and most importantly, the decline of the rule of law," he said.
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely, who was in the same forum as Del Rosario on Friday, said that Australia finds any illegitimate restrictions on freedom of navigation as "unacceptable."
She also highlighted the importance of maritime cooperation for the region, "including in managing tensions in the South China Sea, where we see challenges to the global rules-based order."
"The use of negotiations – including efforts to negotiate a Code of Conduct – is a constructive step and we urge all claimants to clarify their claims in accordance with international law and to refrain from pursuing their claims through unilateral action that destabilizes the region, and increases militarization," she added. – with reports from Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com