MANILA, Jan 22 (Mabuhay) — If elected president in this year’s elections, Vice President Leni Robredo said her administration will be open to having joint exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea with China only if the Asian superpower recognizes the Philippines’ 2016 victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands.

Speaking at the virtual forum organized by the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) on Friday, Robredo emphasized, “Una sa lahat, para sakin ang atin ay atin (First of all, for me, what’s ours is ours).”

“Our foreign policy will always put the interest of our country and our people,” the presidential aspirant said.

Robredo said any agreement with China, especially those concerning the West Philippine Sea, “must first be premised on China’s recognition of arbitral ruling.”

On July 12, 2016, the Philippines scored a victory against China in a landmark ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating Beijing’s massive claims in the South China Sea.

The Philippines refers to portions of the South China Sea as West Philippine Sea.

“The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’,” the Permanent Court of Arbitration said.

The 501-page ruling was handed down in The Hague, Netherlands, more than three years after the case was filed by the Philippines under the Aquino administration in January 2013.

China, however, continues to reject the Philippines’ call to comply with the 2016 arbitration ruling, describing the decision “illegal and invalid.”

Robredo said Beijing’s recognition of Manila’s arbitral win should be the “Step 1” if the country will enter into any joint venture or joint exploration activity with the Asian superpower.

“I will be open to that only if ‘yung Step 1, the recognition of arbitral ruling first,” she said.

“Ang unang requirement dapat China recognizes our arbitral win,” the vice president said.

China asserts ownership of nearly 90% of the waters even as it overlaps with the territories of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

The South China Sea—dotted by a cluster of islands, reefs, shoals, and coral outcrops—is sitting atop rich oil and mineral reserves and straddles one of the world’s vital sea lanes.

Robredo said that the next leader of the country “should have the courage to stand up for the dignity of our nation.”

“We should be unrestrained by fear and be free from the influence of any political power,” she said.

“Having said that, we will make sure our relationship with China or any other country for that matter will always be based on mutual trust and respect and recognition of the international laws,” she added.

Five years since the Philippines’ arbitral victory, Chinese vessels continue to be present in the West Philippine Sea. (MNS)

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