PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday, November 12, invoked the country’s arbitral victory against China over the South China Sea at the start of a virtual regional summit.
During the virtual plenary session of the 37th ASEAN Summit, Duterte stressed that no country, no matter how powerful it is, can ignore the ruling.
“The Philippine position is clear and firm. We must solve the disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” he said.
“The 2016 arbitral award on the South China Sea is an authoritative interpretation of the application of UNCLOS. It is now part of international law. And its significance cannot be diminished nor ignored by any country, however big and powerful,” he added.
Duterte also called for the completion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to promote peace and stability in the busy waterway.
“The Philippines is one with ASEAN in transforming the South China Sea into a sea of peace and prosperity for all,” he said.
“We are committed to the immediate conclusion of a substantive and effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. And if I may add, it has been a long time and it is a long wait,” he added.
Duterte previously brought up the arbitrary ruling when he attended the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for the first time on September 23.
“The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” he had said.
The president said he rejects any attempt to undermine it. He also thanked countries and states who have acknowledged the award and what if stands for.
During the ASEAN Summit, Duterte also stressed that their priority is health security amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Our immediate priority is health security. We have to strengthen our health systems by ensuring the unimpeded supply of medical supplies and technologies, and by enhancing early warning systems for health emergencies,” he said.
According to Duterte, striking a balance between saving lives and not neglecting the sectors should be the priority in mitigating the impact of the pandemic.
“In mitigating the impact of the pandemic, our actions must be people-centered,” he said.
“As we recover, no sector must be left behind. Our efforts should be targeted and inclusive,” he added.
Duterte also called for equal access to vaccines against COVID-19.
“We must work together to ensure that all nations – rich or poor – will have access to safe vaccines. No one is safe until all of us are safe,” he stressed.
The ASEAN Summit, which focuses on the theme ‘Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN,’ was chaired by Vietnam.
The summit is expected to adopt more than 10 outcome documents on ASEAN cooperation on the pandemic, preparedness for public health emergencies, and more.