Think tank urges govt to restart Code of Conduct

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A YEAR after the Philippines se­cured a decisive legal victory against China from the Per­manent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Duterte administration is in a prime position to restart discus­sions on a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea, which observers say can help diffuse tension in the disputed waters, one of the world’s busiest.

“As this year’s chair of Asean, we have an opportunity to steer the discussion on the Code of Conduct,” said Dindo Man­hit, president of international think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute, in a recent forum in Makati City.

As the foremost beneficiary of the landmark Hague ruling, the Philippines must take advantage of the decision and resume its leadership in fortifying international law, Manhit added.

“The Code of Conduct must reaf­firm the Arbitral Tribunal’s Award to the Philippines as a guide for other countries’ behavior in the West Phil­ippine Sea. After all, The Hague ruled that maritime entitlements should be government by Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and any claims not anchored on it should be denied,” he said.

Despite forging warmer relations with Beijing, the Duterte administra­tion can still uphold the 2016 ruling as a legal precedent for Asean claimant-states to further clarify their respective maritime entitlements and boundaries.

“The award should not be seen as mere beneficial to the interest of the Philippines but to all claimants in the region with common interests in free­dom of navigation for trade and other legitimate activities,” Manhit said.

Manhit stressed, “We should resume our leadership in fortifying international law. All diplomatic av­enues must be exhausted that are in promoting the rule of international law. We must protest what is unlaw­ful, coercive and contrary to the cor­rect principles that govern relations between states. We should be ready to appeal to the UN General Assembly in moving toward peace, not war.”

China and the Asean have agreed on a framework to govern the Code of Conduct in May, a step that many see as the right step toward easing tensions in the protracted territorial row.