Yasay: We do not own disputed island in South China Sea
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CA member 'very troubled' by Yasay statements on South China Sea row
'We never categorically stated that we own the disputed islands,' Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr tells the Commission on Appointments
SEA ROW. Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr says the official position of the Philippine government in the South China Sea row is that the disputed area does not belong to anyone. File photo from Agence France-Presse
MANILA, Philippines – A member of the Commission on Appointments said she was "very troubled" by the statements of Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr on the South China Sea dispute during the official's confirmation hearing on Wednesday, February 22.
Responding to questions from CA members, Yasay reiterated the official stand of the Duterte government that the Philippines does not own the disputed area in the South China Sea, even after an arbitral tribunal ruled in the country's favor against China on the sea row.
“My position, which is the official position, is that the disputed part of South China Sea has never belonged to anyone,” Yasay said in response to questions of CA members on Wednesday.
Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Ramirez-Sato questioned Yasay about his earlier pronouncements on the arbitral tribunal’s ruling that favored the Philippines and declared China’s 9-dash-line as invalid.
Yasay said that in not making provocative statements on the dispute that would anger China, he was only being consistent with the position of not causing any tension in the region.
Pressed for the official government stance on the matter, Yasay said the government has never categorically claimed its ownership over the disputed islands.
“Even if the tribunal rules in our favor, this area will continue to belong to international waters,” Yasay said.
Sato told Yasay she was “very troubled” by the Cabinet official's statements.
Yasay’s answers before the CA echo the position President Rodrigo Duterte made at his first Cabinet meeting on June 30, 2016.
Duterte said he would not "flaunt" the ruling against China as he would prefer a "soft landing." He also said during the campaign season that he will not insist on ownership and instead make deals with China. (READ: Duterte’s last resort on West PH Sea: Let’s not insist on ownership)
In the case filed before the artbitral tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines argued 5 main points.
1. China has no historic rights over the water
2. China’s nine-dash line is invalid
3. China cannot claim EEZ over “rocks” because rocks are not islands that generate an EEZ
4. China has breached the law of the sea when it prevented Filipino fishermen from entering our EEZ
5. China has irreversibly damaged the regional marine environment
In its decision, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and added that China should have stopped its construction of artificial islands in the disputed area during the hearing of the case.
Yasay clarified that the Philippines will continue to occupy areas that fall within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but tha the issue of ownership shall be removed from official statements.
“I do not want to confuse the occupancy to the content of the tribunal decision, that's completely different. We will make sure that if there is encroachment into our sovereignty, we will assert our rights,” Yasay said.
“I do not believe that the disputed islands case will be resolved soon, maybe even not in this lifetime,” he added.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the CA's commitee on foreign affairs, told reporters that the committee has suspended Yasay's confirmation hearing because of "concerns" of CA members, mostly from the House contingent.
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-- edited by kawawawanaman on Feb 22 2017, 05:55 PM