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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines can rally like-minded countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to come up with a “strong” statement on the South China Sea territorial rows, Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Jose Antonio Carpio said.
“I don’t expect ASEAN to come up with a unanimous statement and displease China, but we can always agree to have a joint statement with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia. Maybe take out Brunei, but Vietnam is supporting us, Indonesia is supporting us, Malaysia is quietly supporting us,” he said.
“We can come out with a strong statement, although I have no illusions about ASEAN,” Carpio added in a talk at the University of the Philippines.
Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, like the Philippines, have respective claims over portions of the vast South China Sea, believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas.
President Rodrigo Duterte is to attend a gathering of leaders in the ASEAN Summit slated from September 4 to 9 in Laos. But he said he would not necessarily raise the issue of the South China Sea dispute, adding it was better “to create an environment where we can sit down and talk directly.”
The United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague had recently ruled that China possessed no historical title over the South China Sea and that it had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights with various actions there.
Duterte, for his part, had hinted he was eyeing bilateral talks with China within the year to settle the dispute.
Carpio expressed confidence that the Duterte administration would stand pat on its word that it would not compromise the Constitution or turn its back on the UN tribunal’s ruling while engaging China in talks over the dispute.
“We will not compromise the Constitution and the ruling, for me, that is sufficient, everything else is a matter of style,” he said.
Following the ruling of the arbitral tribunal, Carpio said the two “most urgent” things to do are “one, to find a way for our fishermen to fish again at Scarborough Shoal. Two, to find a way for our survey ships to go back to Reed Bank to start their operations.”
Both Reed Bank and Scarborough Shoal lie within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Beijing seized control of Scarborough Shoal, near the main Philippine island of Luzon, in June 2012, following a three-month standoff after a Philippine Navy vessel tried to arrest Chinese fishermen found illegally hauling giant clams there.