The Secretary of Foreign Affairs on the West Philippine Sea, November 15, 2011

Statement of Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. del Rosario:

On the West Philippine Sea

[Delivered at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bali, Indonesia on November 15, 2011]

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to recall my statement at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Retreat in Bali that, “the Philippines believes that a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes in the South China Sea.” At the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) Retreat on 19 July 2011, in Bali,  I said, “the new introduction of China of the 9-dash in 2009, becomes the core of the problem, Mr. Chairman, which now must be subjected to a rules-based regime of UNCLOS.”

This rules-based approach was embodied in our Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship, and Cooperation (ZoPFF/C). Based on the Joint Communiqué of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting on 19 July 2011, the Foreign Ministers “tasked the ASEAN SOM with the assistance from maritime legal experts to seriously study the proposal,” which is ZoPFF/C. The Foreign Ministers also welcomed “the offer of the Philippines to host the maritime legal experts meeting in September 2011, report to the SOM, and make recommendations to the Foreign Ministers prior to the 19th ASEAN Summit in November 2011.”

Pursuant to the Joint Communiqué, the Philippines hosted the ASEAN Maritime Legal Experts Meeting and submitted its summary record to the ASEAN SOM. I take it, colleagues, that your Senior Officials have already briefed you on the results of the ASEAN Maritime Legal Experts’ Meeting.

The ASEAN Maritime Legal Experts’ Meeting in Manila, held from 22 to 23 September 2011, extensively discussed the ZoPFF/C initiative in light of relevant international law principles on regime of islands, maritime zones, and maritime delimitation.

At the conclusion of the Meeting, the maritime legal experts affirmed ASEAN’s commitment to the peaceful and rules-based approach to the resolution of disputes in the West Philippine Sea (WPS)/ South China Sea (SCS).

The meeting also concluded that ZoPFF/C could be taken into account by the ASEAN SOM in the implementation of the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

We have been given the impression that political and economic considerations had hindered a fruitful and mutually acceptable outcome on the discussions of the ZoPFF/C. There was no full participation of the ASEAN Member States in the ASEAN Maritime Legal Experts’ Meeting thus making it difficult to reach a consensus.

ASEAN is now at a critical junction of playing a positive and meaningful role to contribute in the peaceful resolution of the disputes in the WPS/SCS. The Philippines is of the view that ASEAN should reach a stage whereby it is able to help resolve sensitive issues decisively without letting such issues affect the progress of bilateral or multilateral relations.

Mr. Chairman,

We believe that the ZoPFF/C is the actionable framework to clarify and segregate the disputed land features from the non-disputed waters of the WPS/SCS, and in the process, address the issue of the 9-dash line. This process of segregation would have enabled a workable cooperation between and among ASEAN and China, especially the littoral and claimant states in the South China Sea.

The ZoPFF/C is consistent with the rules-based framework of managing the disputes in the WPS/ SCS and is, likewise, consistent with and pursuant to the DOC. We continue to pursue this framework and the embodied principles at every opportunity, as well as, to use appropriate avenues to exhaust all available means to settle the disputes within ASEAN.

We strongly believe that an approach consistent with international law, specifically UNCLOS, will enable the parties to reach a fair, objective, and equitable resolution of the disputes in the WPS/SCS.

A fundamental principle of a rules-based approach is the dispute settlement mechanism established in UNCLOS. Thus, the Philippines will consider a parallel track of pursuing third party adjudication, arbitration or conciliation as may be appropriate in the context of the dispute settlement mechanism of UNCLOS.

Mr. Chairman,

As we work on building an ASEAN Community of Nations, we believe this Community must be governed by rules and the Philippines is resolved to hold sacrosanct the primacy of international law specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

ZoPFF/C is the Philippines’ proactive contribution for the benefit of all countries with an interest in the West Philippine Sea.

The disposition of this important actionable framework is an opportunity for ASEAN to define its leadership in the global community. ZoPFF/C is being placed on the ASEAN table for its action.

With the guidance of such a framework and through the facilitation of ASEAN, the Philippines calls on the claimant states in the South China Sea, including China, to meet and discuss these claims and define the undisputed and the disputed areas for the purpose of establishing a Joint Cooperation Area.

Mr. Chairman,

ASEAN must play a decisive role at this time if it desires to realize its aspirations for global leadership.