Roque won’t stop speaking on int’l law despite Locsin rebuke
MANILA, Philippines — Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque won’t stop speaking on matters of international law even after being told off by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to leave that to him.
Roque said he and Locsin spoke with each other on Wednesday after the latter called him out on Twitter over his statements that Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef is not within the country’s exclusive economic zone, that the Philippines was never in possession of it and that there was little the government could do about China’s militarization of the West Philippine Sea.
“We are fine. We also agreed that I should still continue to speak on matters of international law,” Roque said in a press briefing on Thursday.
He said that whenever he speaks about international law, he will be speaking for President Rodrigo Duterte who has given him access to ensure that his statements are in line with the Chief Executive’s policy.
“We have regular consultations on these topics,” the Palace official said, adding that Duterte had never said anything about his statements being incorrect.
Locsin on Wednesday took Roque to task for his statements about the reef, saying “There is only one voice on what’s ours: mine. Period. Not even the military has any say. I speak for the President on this subject.’’
On the issue of what to do with China’s incursions into Philippine waters, Locsin said the Palace should leave it to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to speak on the issue.
“What can we do? Let’s try this: drop the subject and leave it entirely to the [DFA] under ME, the only expert on the subject bar none,” he said, stressing he had known China since 1967.
Even the military has nothing to do with international affairs, Locsin added.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) also said Julian Felipe Reef was part of Philippine territory, contradicting Roque’s position.
In defense of Duterte
Roque, who used to teach international law, continued to explain his earlier statement, saying he made it in the course of defending the President from criticism that he had been soft on Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea.
At Thursday’s briefing, he took note of an NTF-WPS statement saying Julian Felipe was within the overlapping 22 kilometers territorial seas of Mckennan (Chigua) Reef and Sin Cowe Reef.
The reef being within 370 kilometers from Philippine shores does not mean it would automatically be part of the country’s EEZ because there are two high-tide elevations that could generate territorial seas, he said.
“There can be pocket territorial seas in our EEZ,” he said.
A coastal state has more rights because territorial seas have sovereignty and jurisdiction, while an EEZ only gives a country the right to exploit resources, he added.
“That is the context of my statement—that it may not be part of the EEZ because there is a territorial sea. Of course, we are also claiming ownership so that could also be the Philippines’ territorial sea,” he said.
But National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who also chairs of the NTF-WPS, was categorical in his statement.
“It is part of Philippine territory in as much as it is located within the overlapping (22-kilometer) territorial seas of McKennan Reef and of another possible high-tide feature, Grierson (Sin Cowe East) Reef, also our territories under the Municipality of Kalayaan,’’ Esperon said.
Roque said several senators were just politicking when they criticized his statement as irresponsible.
He said he was only speaking about factual findings that high-tide elevations generate territorial seas and that this was stated in the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that rejected China’s sweeping maritime claims.
According to him, the landmark ruling, which said Beijing’s nine-dash line claim to the South China Sea had no legal basis, also seemingly declared that Manila’s legal basis for claiming the Spratly Islands was not in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Roque also said there was also a need to review Presidential Decree 1569, which declared Kalayaan Island Group part of Philippine territory and used as basis for the claim over Julian Felipe Reef.
Congress must come up with a new law to give the Philippines a stronger claim to the Kalayaan Island Group, he said.
Earlier, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario questioned the credibility of Roque in engaging him and Vice President Leni Robredo in a debate over the West Philippine Sea.
“We are made to understand, however, that Secretary Roque’s own department is undergoing serious credibility challenges. The question arises—Is the problem with the marketer, or is it the product, or both?” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario said he believed that a debate with Roque on the issue under the circumstances “is not the best way to spend our time.”
“[I]t merely will manifest to the world that we are not united and we do not know what we are doing,” he pointed out.
“My humble suggestion is for this government to listen to what the Filipinos are saying,” he said, adding that Roque “can then serve as our pathfinder.”
—With a report from Tina Santos
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