MNS Photo

MANILA, Apr 30 (Mabuhay) —  Former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario on Thursday said the Philippines lost control over the Scarborough Shoal after China reneged on a United States-brokered agreement for both Manila and Beijing to simultaneously withdraw its vessels from the area to end a standoff in 2012.

“On the unfortunate loss of Scarborough, as previously discussed, there was an agreement with China in settling an impasse in 2012 which was brokered by the United States. It involved the withdrawal of all ships on both sides by a certain hour,” Del Rosario said.

“Accordingly, if my memory serves me correctly, we withdrew our one ship while China deceitfully breached our Agreement by not withdrawing their 30 or more ships.”

Duterte on Wednesday night blamed the previous administration and its officials for losing the shoal, specifically Del Rosario and former Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Del Rosario and Carpio led the country’s maritime legal experts to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands where the Philippines won the case that invalidated China’s sprawling South China Sea claim in 2016.

“Kung bright kayo, bakit nawala ang West Philippine Sea sa atin? Panahon ninyo ‘yon eh. Panahon ninyo na talagang nandiyan kayo sa pwesto. Eh kung bright kayo, bakit nawala? Ngayong China ang naghawak doon, ako na ‘yong niluluslos niyo na maggawa ng paraan,” Duterte said.

“Anong ginawa ninyong nasa gobyerno? Ikaw, Albert, ikaw nagsabi sa Navy na umatras kayo because of the Americans or you were afraid? Nawalan ka ng bayag diyan. Sana sinabi mo we will stand our ground. We will not retreat. We will not get out of the West Philippine Sea because it’s ours and we are calling for at least an offer for the United States to send a flotilla of ships para to back us up,” he said.

‘Did our best’

Del Rosario said the Philippines brought China before the international tribunal following the incident.

“In order to seek a peaceful and durable solution, we did our best to bring China before an Arbitral Tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 2013 leading to an overwhelming victory for the Philippines,” Del Rosario said.

The Arbitral Award was rendered on July 12, 2016—during the early days of President Duterte’s term.

Del Rosario said it was Duterte who decided to shelve the ruling and refrained from pressuring China to adhere to the court decision to appease Beijing in exchange for economic aid and investments.

“After our efforts in securing this victory, we were expecting the then new administration to enforce the Arbitral Award for the benefit of the Filipino people,” Del Rosario said.

“Instead, President Duterte did not waste time in advancing his declared embrace of Xi Jinping when he very quickly shelved the Arbitral Award in exchange for a promised US$24B in Chinese investments and assistance which, until now, has not materialized.”

Duterte, he added, announced in 2019 that he made a verbal agreement with Xi Jinping allowing the Chinese to fish in the West Philippine Sea in patent violation of the Philippine Constitution.

“Along with the threat from China that there would be war if our country ‘forces the issue,’ our President has fully accepted this Chinese narrative of war intended to sow fear and deter the Filipino people from asserting their internationally recognized rights in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

In a public address on Wednesday, Duterte said he would not wage a war against China due to “huge debt of gratitude” after providing free Covid-19 vaccines to the Philippines.

Duterte made the remarks amid lingering presence of Chinese militia vessels in various areas of the West Philippine Sea.

Chinese ships in varying numbers were spotted in the West Philippine Sea since early March. More than 200 Chinese militia vessels were seen in Julian Felipe Reef or Whitsun Reef during its peak in March.

Several vessels have remained despite repeated protests and demands from senior Defense and Foreign Affairs officials, with China insisting that the West Philippine Sea is part of Chinese territory.

China and five other governments – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan – are embroiled in years-long disputes over the resource-rich South China Sea, particularly in its southern part, called the Spratlys.

Parts of the South China Sea that fall under the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone has been renamed West Philippine Sea by the Philippine government.

“With due respect, as the incumbent Commander-in-Chief of our military, we urge the President to do his utmost to protect the West Philippine Sea and to be most wary of China’s duplicity,” Del Rosario said. (MNS)

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