Locsin says Hague ruling invoked in diplomatic protests vs China

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 16) — Far from the country's victory at the Hague Tribunal on the South China Sea dispute being "shelved," the Philippines has actually invoked the international court's award that struck down China's sweeping claims over the waters in diplomatic protests filed against it, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr. said.

"Of course, [we can't] pretend it's not there? That will never happen because the culture in the Department of Foreign Affairs is really very legalistic and it is a part of them. When it was being downplayed, it wasn't taken well in the Department of Foreign Affairs," Locsin told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday.

He added that he had also raised the Hague ruling even when he was the Philippines' ambassador to the UN and again as the country's top diplomat in a meeting on the Belt-and-Road Initiative with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

"I just don't wanna make a fuss about it because one, it should just be between us. And if ever it comes to a foreign tribunal, then I can say we never yielded, we never consented by silence," Locsin said.

Malacañang said yesterday that President Rodrigo Duterte has "effectively" invoked the Hague ruling in telling China to "lay off" the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, where hundreds of its vessels had been spotted in the first quarter of the year.

This after the Palace also cited the Philippines' 2016 victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration for the first time in responding to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang's statement asserting their claims over South China Sea.

Locsin said that he has "fired off a salvo" of diplomatic notes against the swarming of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island. Locsin said that since becoming Foreign Affairs Secretary, he has sent at least 10 notes verbale.

Locsin said the notes verbale on the presence of Chinese vessels in Philippine territory told the East Asian giant that what they are doing is illegal, improper and against a so-called agreement that they would not move to other islands, after taking control of the Scarborough Shoal following a standoff in 2013.

Meanwhile, a note verbale sent to China on the catching of giant clams in the West Philippine Sea, a part of the South China Sea claimed by Manila, said that China is violating conventions on environmental protection, according to Locsin.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has said that the Philippines should routinely file diplomatic protests against China's incursions in its waters so that it could not be said that it consented to the East Asian giant's actions.

However, Locsin admitted that the protests Manila have filed against Beijing have not been responded to.

"Well, we wait them out, they wait us out, because we are not stopping," he said.

The Malacañang said China should respond to the protests, but added that for now, negotiating with the East Asian giant is the only thing Manila can do.

But another option on the Philippine's table is to turn to its "only military ally" the U.S. for aid in the sea row should tensions escalate.

Locsin is banking on the statement of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to the Philippines in March that the 68-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington would cover attacks in the South China Sea.

"Should there be an encounter and a Philippine Navy vessel is hit, that is a cause for invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty," Locsin said.

However, he acknowledged that there is still a need to clarify the terms of the treaty, which provides that the Philippines and U.S. would aid each other should one of them be attacked or invaded by a foreign power.

With the Palace saying that Duterte would still decide on whether to turn to the U.S. for help, Locsin said that for now, the sea row is better left undiscussed until tensions have cooled off.

CNN Philippines Senior Digital Producer Eimor P. Santos contributed to this report.