INTERVENTION OF SECRETARY ALBERT F. DEL ROSARIO – 48TH ASEAN FOREIGN MINISTERS’ MEETING

Mr. Chair, Your Royal Highness, Excellencies:

Through this session, we are given an opportunity to speak candidly and listen intently to one another about the events affecting and shaping the future direction of our region.

Regional Security Architecture and External Relations

I will begin with the evolving regional security architecture that has to be, first and foremost, governed by principles. It has to be founded on the rule of law, especially the principles of international law as embodied in the UN Charter and international conventions and regional agreements.  To be effective, it should be a product of the collective efforts, not just of the countries in Asia but also of countries which have a key interest and stake in the region. To achieve this, there is a need to strengthen existing mechanisms such as the EAS, ARF, ADMM-Plus, and the ASEAN Maritime Forum, all of which already serve as building blocks of the regional security infrastructure. 

Within the AMF process, the Philippines made a proposal last year to establish a coordination and cooperation mechanism between and among ASEAN’s coast guards and maritime law enforcement agencies. We are offering to host a meeting in Manila this month to consider this proposal and explore the role of this body in promoting a safe, secure, clean and peaceful maritime environment of the ASEAN Community. Within the ARF, the Philippines is honored to serve as co-chair of the Inter-sessional Meeting on Maritime Security (ISM - MS) from 2015 to 2017. We are looking forward to host the 8th Meeting of this ISM in 2016. The Workplan of the ARF ISM on MS seeks to facilitate the region’s adoption of universal regimes covering maritime security, safety of navigation and marine environmental protection.

We believe that investing in the improvement of existing ASEAN-based, ASEAN-driven mechanisms will prove to be more productive than creating  new models that may overlap with existing ones.

Exchange of Views on Regional Issues

Terrorism

In response to the pressing issue of terrorism, the Philippines condemns the war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated by ISIS. We are committed to contribute our share in international efforts to addressing the threat posed by these terrorist groups.

As part of these efforts, the Philippines together with 103 other UN Member States co-sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 2178 on Foreign Terrorist Fighters.  The Philippines is prepared to mobilize its relevant agencies and bodies to formulate a coordinated and comprehensive response in order to implement the provisions of UNSCR 2178.

Towards this end, the Philippines commends and fully supports the ASEAN Declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates as initiated by Malaysia. We reiterate our steadfast commitment to promoting peace processes and conflict resolution. In particular, we will advocate inclusiveness through the involvement of women in the peace processes, through the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR).

Irregular Migration/Trafficking in Persons/Migrant Workers

Another recent and pressing humanitarian issue in the region is the exodus of irregular migrants in the Andaman Sea. We note of the outcome of the Emergency ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (EAMMTC) and support the suggestion of the Chair to provide training programs to migrants already in the host country.  In the spirit of ASEAN solidarity and in fulfillment of our international humanitarian obligations, the Philippines is prepared to contribute to an ASEAN trust fund to be earmarked for training and capacity building of the affected migrants.

South China Sea

Finally, I will move to an issue that to our mind should be at the forefront of our efforts to build a more peaceful, secure and stable region: the South China Sea.

Mr. Chairman,

While we actively participate in the efforts within the framework of ASEAN-China dialogue to implement the DOC, including the early harvest measures, the Philippines would like to see ASEAN making concrete initiatives to expeditiously conclude a legally binding Code of Conduct.  The COC should be our priority now if it is still to be relevant, practical and usable in the context of what is happening on the ground.

The situation of uncertainty in the South China Sea also behooves us to reach a common understanding on the practical meaning of the principles of non-use of force or threat of force and self-restraint in the DOC.  International law and jurisprudence, and established best practices, provide adequate guidance to our efforts to operationalize these principles to address challenges on the ground.

These steps would be in keeping with the directive of our Leaders for us to constructively address the developments in the South China Sea as reflected in the Chairman’s Statement of the 26th ASEAN Summit. 

While working towards an enduring resolution of the disputes, we also recognize the urgent need to reduce the tensions in the South China Sea. 

Further, we strongly oppose any actions aimed at fabricating legitimacy and entitlements in the reclaimed features.

Exactly a year ago, we proposed a moratorium on aggressive activities that heighten existing tensions. Over the past year, such aggressive activities have included massive reclamation of some features, construction on the features and announcements that these will be used for purposes that would further heighten tensions and hostilities in the region.

As a means of de-escalating tensions in the region, the Philippines fully support the call of the United States on the "3 halts": halt in reclamation, halt in construction, and halt in aggressive actions that could further heighten tensions.

We will agree to be bound only if China and the other claimant states agree to the same.

We have to emphasize, however, that this should not in any way legitimize the status of the features reclaimed by China.

And finally, we reiterate our call for the full and effective implementation of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the expeditious conclusion of a legally-binding Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

Sustaining peace and security in the South China Sea requires a multilateral endeavor.  The disputes are not simply bilateral issues between and among claimant countries; it is an ASEAN issue and it is an issue with far ranging implications for the region and the world. The recent statements from G7 and other responsible states and organizations demonstrate that this issue is a matter of significant international concern. The peaceful and rules-based management and resolution of these disputes under international law, particularly UNCLOS, are critical to our collective efforts to shape a predictable and stable maritime order in the region on which our continued economic prosperity rests.

As we speak, we see no let up on the unilateral and aggressive activities of our northern neighbor in the South China Sea.  The massive reclamation activities covering at least 800 hectares and construction of facilities in the reclaimed features have undermined the peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.

Our northern neighbor has stated that these facilities will also meet its “necessary military defense” so its statements that it has completed the land reclamations offer no comfort. In fact, they generate new uncertainties. These activities cannot lawfully change the character, status, and maritime entitlements of the affected features under UNCLOS. They have led to irreversible damage to the region’s marine ecosystem and economic losses in the amount estimated at US$300M per year. They have also put at risk the livelihood of millions of people who have depended on the South China Sea for generations. 

Further, our northern neighbor in the South China Sea has also taken actions that  have threatened freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight and raised the risk of miscalculations if not conflict.  The Philippines has been directly affected by harassment of fishing vessels, destructive fishing activities, unilateral fishing ban, and audio challenges against aircraft flying over the South China Sea. 

These are the facts, Mr. Chairman, which we must have to address with China.

Updates on the PH Arbitration Case

At this juncture, Mr. Chair, the Philippines wishes to give this august body an update on the arbitral proceedings that recently took place in The Hague. 

On 7-13 July 2015, the Arbitral Tribunal, constituted under UNCLOS, conducted a hearing on the jurisdiction and admissibility of the Philippines’ claims against China.  The Philippines emphasized the following points:

First, China is not entitled to exercise what it refers to as “historic rights” over the waters, seabed and subsoil beyond the limits of its entitlements under the Convention;

Second, the so-called nine dash line claim has no basis whatsoever under international law insofar as it purports to define the limits of China’s claim to “historic rights”;

Third, the various maritime features in the South China Sea asserted by China are not islands that generate entitlement to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. Rather, some are “rocks” within the meaning of Article 121, paragraph 3; others are low-tide elevations; and still others are permanently submerged. As a result, none are capable of generating entitlements beyond 12 nautical miles, and some generate no entitlements at all.  China’s recent massive reclamation activities cannot lawfully change the original nature and character of these features);

Fourth, China has breached the Convention by interfering with the Philippines’ exercise of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction; and,

Fifth, China has irreversibly damaged the regional marine environment, in breach of UNCLOS, by its destruction of coral reefs in the South China Sea, including areas within the Philippines’ EEZ, by its destructive and hazardous fishing practices, and by its harvesting and poaching of endangered species.

The members of the Arbitral Tribunal posed questions to the Philippines which we answered on 13 July 2015.  We presented a written submission on 23 July 2015 to elaborate on our answers to the questions of the Arbitral Tribunal.  China has until 17 August 2015 to comment in writing on anything said during the hearing on jurisdiction and admissibility. The Philippines appreciates the earlier submission by Viet Nam to the Arbitral Tribunal.  The submission is both timely and helpful to the arbitration case. We also appreciate the participation of Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and Viet Nam as observers.

The final outcome of the arbitration under Annex VII of the UNCLOS will contribute to the peaceful and long-term resolution of overlapping maritime jurisdictions in the South China Sea.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman,

All our efforts at regional community-building aim to promote and protect the future well-being of our people.  This can only be done in a peaceful, secure and stable environment.

By working together, our vision of an integrated ASEAN Community that is people-oriented and people-centered will be well within reach.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.