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26/09/2012: Del Rosario Underscores Need for Rules-Based Approach to Resolve West Philippine Sea Issue

26 September 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario today again underscored the need for a rules-based approach in resolving the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, saying this is the only legitimate and viable way to address the issue.

“The West Philippine Sea remains a focus of concern for the Philippines, for the region and for the international community and as we have maintained many times before, a rules-based approach is the only legitimate and viable way to address the issue,” Secretary Del Rosario said in his remarks this morning at the Philippine Conference at the Capitol Hilton here.

Secretary Del Rosario was among three Cabinet officials invited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the US-Philippine Society to address the Philippine Conference. The other two were Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Justice Secretary Leila De Lima.

“Let me make it clear: our foreign policy does not seek to isolate one country, nor even force the resolution of a dispute.  Our core interest lies in being able to contribute to ensuring that the global security and economic system is based firmly on the rule of law,” Secretary Del Rosario said.

“We are firmly committed to helping build an international system that will be just and fair to all states, regardless of economic size or power.”

In pursuing a rules-based approach, the top Filipino diplomat told a predominantly American audience that Manila is implementing a comprehensive foreign policy approach that involves action to be taken in the political, diplomatic and legal tracks.

For the political track, Secretary Del Rosario said the objective of the Philippines is to transform the area into a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation.

“We want to establish an actionable framework to define, clarify, and segregate, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the disputed and non-disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea,” he said. “This would pave the way for feasible cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China in the medium-term.”

For the diplomatic track, Secretary Del Rosario said Manila will continue to keep channels of discussions with China open. He cited his meeting last month with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, which, he said, shows that high-level contact between Manila and Beijing is being maintained.

For the legal track, the Philippines will continue to study and evaluate the possible availment of the dispute settlement mechanisms under UNCLOS, he said.

“Given the many interests involved, furthermore, the Philippines maintains the utility of submitting maritime disputes in the region, including the West Philippine Sea, to multilateral discussions in appropriate fora, in accordance with international law, specifically UNCLOS,” Secretary Del Rosario added.

These parameters, according to him, have the full support of the United States, Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and several member-countries of ASEAN and the European Union.

“Finally, because the region’s maritime disputes can have global implications, we also feel it is important for the broader public to understand what is happening. Public discussions, such as what we are having today, are important for this purpose,” he added.

In his remarks, the secretary said the Philippines believes that dialogue and cooperation to maintain broad and enduring stability is essential for continued growth and development. “Without such stability, our individual and collective endeavors to improve the lives of our people may be severely compromised.”

“We are at a very challenging period in our relations but the issue in the West Philippine Sea does not constitute the sum total of our relations with China. While we are working to strengthen other areas of the bilateral relations, we will not hesitate to speak out to protect our legitimate national interests,” he added.###

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