Presidential bets: Rally ASEAN countries vs. China’s militarization of WPS

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 4) — The country should strengthen resistance to Beijing’s militarization of the disputed West Philippine Sea by consolidating the position of other Southeast Asian nations, presidential candidates said on Sunday.

In the second round of the Commission on Elections debate, former presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella pointed out that some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are hesitant to condemn China’s actions due to economic reasons.

However, he and former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said while it may be difficult for the 10-member ASEAN to reach a consensus on the issue, the majority may still make a collective move.

“Ang hinahanap natin ngayon ay isang [...] statement of cooperation among the ASEAN nations. Pwede po ‘yun na idaan po natin sa majority statement,” Abella said.

[Translation: What we’re looking for now is a statement of cooperation among the ASEAN nations. That can be done through a majority statement.]

Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno meanwhile said the country should continue to raise its arbitral victory against China before the rest of the world.

If elected president, he vowed to call on all member states of the United Nations to recognize the Hague ruling.

Vice President Leni Robredo, for her part, acknowledged that creating an ASEAN South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) is a tough task, given that there are countries “innately” against it.

“Pero sa aking palagay, ‘yung bansa natin, ‘yung Pilipinas ‘yung dapat talagang mamuno nito dahil tayo ‘yung may arbitral ruling, at kailangan nile-leverage natin ‘yung arbitral ruling na ‘yun para kumbinsihin ‘yung mga kasama natin sa ASEAN na patuloy na ipaglaban ito,” she said.

[Translation: But in my opinion, the Philippines should be leading the talks because we have the arbitral victory, and we should be leveraging this to convince other ASEAN members to continue to push for it.]

The ASEAN has been in talks with Beijing for decades over the COC, which will determine the only allowable actions countries can take in the South China Sea.

The regional bloc earlier adopted the three-year timeline proposed by China, eyeing 2022 for the completion of the nonaggression pact.