Watchdog says ASEAN must stand vs. killings in Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has opted not to press China to abide by an global arbitration decision previous year that ruled in Manila's favor and invalidated Beijing's sweeping South China Sea claims.

Units of Philippine Coast Guard are securing the Manila Bay for the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.

Duterte would rather focus on completing the framework on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, one of the documents the Philippines hopes to finalize during its 2017 chairmanship.

However, a diplomat from the ASEAN secretariat told Reuters, that officials were still working on the draft of the statement and "it may still change" before it is issued at the end of the summit on Saturday.

Duterte, who took office in June, has taken steps to fix relations with China which had been damaged by the territorial conflict.

Duterte said invoking the global court's verdict to Chinese government would be a bad precedent because it would only result in a fight between China and the Philippines.

Duterte has relentlessly railed against the mostly Western critics of his drug war, angrily demanding they respect him while in turn using abusive terms to describe them.

Duterte's draft message for Asean, which was sent to reporters, does not contain the ruling on the disputed South China Sea. "It will evolve more quickly because we need to have it finalized by the time the leaders meet on Saturday, and the final version will be of course issued after the leaders' summit", DFA Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said.

China and the Philippines have had a long-running dispute over competing claims in the South China Sea.

So I'll skip that.

He has set aside a July 12, 2016, worldwide arbitration decision that declared China's historic claims to virtually the entire South China Sea invalid under a 1982 maritime treaty, while seeking to revive trade ties and infrastructure financing from Beijing.

Those include a decision to deemphasize the Philippines' landmark global arbitration win that invalidated Beijing's expansive claims in the South China Sea; cancellation of several joint military exercises with the US, namely the US-Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex) and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Exercise (Carat); stopping the US from using Philippine ports for freedom of navigation operations; and refusal to allow the US to develop the strategic Bautista Airbase on the island province of Palawan. Before pandering again to foreign investors from the US, China, Japan and European Union, our leaders in ASEAN should first cater to the needs and interests of their people. "You might want to extrapolate something out of it", the President said.

However, it did not mention the concerns of some leaders on the land reclamation in the disputed waters that was stressed past year when Laos hosted the annual gathering of leaders.

"The Code of Conduct is a different story, it must be taken up", he said. The supposedly China-friendly Duterte has thus ironically taken a tougher position on the ground, committing resources and deploying defense officials to strengthen the Philippines' position. "It's already there. What would be the goal also of discussing it if you can not do anything", Duterte told reporters.

Dela Rosa said "We have rehearsed and fine-tuned all our systems and procedures for this even such that we have established a full backup system that will address any unforeseen situation that may arise".

"The code of conduct at sea is another story".

That means discussion of the disputed South China Sea - China claims cross over with some Southeast Asian states - will probably be on the back burner.

  • Joey Payne