Remarks of the
Secretary of Foreign Affairs

at the Second Manila Conference on the South China Sea

3 August 2016
Manila Hotel

'Come, Let us Reason Together'


Foreign Service Institute Director-General Claro Cristobal,
Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

In a thriving democracy like the Philippines, policy discourse plays a key role. We discuss and debate the many issues that impact on the life of our nation and the lives of more than 100 million Filipinos.

As a democracy, we work hard to keep our channels of communication open, and our engagements are – more positively interactive to engender mutually enriching encounters. Debates will be more informed and verbal engagements more enriching if all parties have access to essential information on governance and on the government. 

The right information is an important staple for divergence or convergence of ideas – assuring of good content in a spirited idea exchange. Otherwise, our discussion will be, as Shakespeare put it, simply “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

Policy Discourse and Freedom of Information

Barely a month into our new government, President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 2 implementing the freedom of information (FOl).

No doubt, this will support our policy dialogue which must be characterized by depth and substance. As it is, our discourse is already driven by the active and critical participation of our people at every possible platform.

The shaping of public policy is a shared process where our people really participate in the shaping of national policy. This is consultation at its best. Our democracy provides us a climate and framework for a market place of ideas, where persuasion is preferred over coercion. For these reasons, the conference’s theme, “Managing Tensions, Revisiting Regional Efforts, and Fostering Cooperation,” is timely and relevant.

Philippines and Track Two Diplomacy

The Philippines has and will always be committed to Track II diplomacy. The diversity of views in Track II dialogues among non-state actors strengthens our democracy. This market place of ideas will flourish if we are all deeply committed to the rule of law, particularly when persuasion wins the day. Coercion or imposition has no place in this free market of ideas.

In a free exchange of thoughts and views, the body of knowledge possessed by every participant in a dialogue expands and deepens. I have always shared the belief of Justice Wendell Holmes who said, “The mind, stretched to a new idea, will never go back to its original dimension.” With this piece of wisdom, I welcome all of you today to the Second Manila Conference on the South China Sea.

The South China Sea (SCS)

The world is closely watching developments in the South China Sea. Given its importance to transnational trade and connectivity, keeping a peaceful and predictable maritime order is an international priority. This is especially true considering that stability is a pre-condition to sustaining the economic growth in both South East Asia and North East Asia. 

Asia and the rest of the world will benefit from freedom of navigation and over flight, unimpeded lawful commerce, respect for traditional fishing rights, and the primacy of a rules-based maritime regime in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


UNCLOS is considered the Constitution of the Oceans. It codifies the fundamental principles governing our seas. It is the duty of every country in the community of nations, as partners under UNCLOS, to ensure that this constitution effectively governs all waters, including the South China Sea.

As we all know, disputes in the South China Sea are not new. Overlapping claims have been made and asserted for decades. They seldom placed regional stability in such a precarious situation, until unilateral actions were undertaken beginning in 1995.

Developments in the Region

Since then, the region has endeavored to peacefully manage these disputes. In 2002, ASEAN and China agreed on a Declaration of Conduct (DOC) that promotes self-restraint and the non-use of force or threat of force in the disputed waters, and to commence consultations on a Code of Conduct (COC) that would manage tensions on the ground. In May 2009, China formally articulated its Nine Dash Line claim over almost the entire South China Sea.

To discuss these developments, the First Manila Conference on the South China Sea was convened in 2011. The conference produced meaningful outcomes that are still relevant today. Recommended, among others, were the need for states to think in terms of the regional interest, the need to improve the climate for dialogue through demilitarization of sensitive areas, the institution of confidence-building measures, and the need for claimant-states to clarify the basis of their claims in accordance with UNCLOS.[1]

Since then, two parallel tracks of development on the ground and on the diplomatic front have occurred.

On the ground, the South China Sea has unfortunately witnessed further unilateral activities, which resulted in irreparable damage to the marine environment, as well as on the livelihood of our fishermen in in littoral communities, such as in the province of Zambales, located some 150 kilometers north of Manila.

The Philippines and the SCS

As far as the South China Sea is concerned, the Philippines seeks to maintain peace and stability in the disputed areas. We will continue to uphold the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the framework for the management and settlement of disputes.

The Philippines continues to exert best efforts and to show great flexibility toward the effective implementation of the ASEAN - China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety. We continue to urge parties concerned to do the same.

Also, all parties need to work expeditiously towards the establishment of an effective code of conduct (COC), and undertake activities that are in good faith and consistent with international law with the aim of advancing, and not delaying, the process. The Philippines wants to see the early adoption of the COC.

With this goal in mind, the Philippines has actively participated in various ASEAN-China mechanisms, include the hosting of the 16th ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the DOC held last March 2016 in Manila.

ASEAN's Actions on the SCS

Turning to ASEAN, in its Vision 2025, ASEAN has committed to enhance maritime security and maritime cooperation for peace and stability in the region and beyond, through ASEAN and ASEAN-led mechanisms, and to adopt internationally accepted maritime convention and principles.

In the recent 49th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting held last week in Vientiane, the Philippines articulated that disputes, particularly those relating to the South China Sea, can best be resolved among all the parties concerned in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the United Nations Charter. 

ASEAN Foreign Ministers agreed to the principle of “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes.” Now as a recognized fundamental ASEAN norm, the principle supports a rules-based approach to peaceful resolution of disputes in the region in accordance with international law. This truly is a triumph not just for the Philippines, but also for the entire ASEAN as it underscores ASEAN’s solidarity, centrality and unity on this approach.

Other Developments

We have also seen other positive signs on the diplomatic front. Maritime security is at the heart of our efforts towards establishing a rules-based security architecture in the region.

We all understand the importance of addressing maritime challenges, not just on disputes on territory and on maritime entitlements but also on other equally pressing concerns of illegal and unregulated fishing, marine environmental degradation, and piracy.

In 2015, the East Asia Summit (EAS) declared that a maritime regime based on international law, including UNCLOS, that sets out a legal order for the peaceful use of the seas and oceans, including freedom of navigation and over flight and other lawful uses of the seas related to these freedoms, is important for the region’s continued economic growth.

The Philippines, together with Japan and the United States, has also been leading the work of the ASEAN Regional Forum Inter-Sessional Meeting on Maritime Security. There is also the expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum, which includes ASEAN plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

This renewed regional focus on maritime security has captured the interest even from outside the region. The Foreign Ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) issued stand-alone statements on maritime security in 2015 and 2016, which were both echoed by the G7 Leaders during their summits in both years.

In the academe, we are seeing an abundance of institutes, research bodies, and new scholarships on maritime issues in the region. We note, for example, the excellent work of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).

Post-Arbitral Ruling

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Philippines understands how critical the situation is in the South China Sea. It underscores the need to promote international law as the fulcrum of dispute-management and dispute-resolution. For this reason, we have pursued parallel tracks in our South China Sea policy.

While maintaining our firm commitment to ASEAN-led diplomatic processes to address maritime concerns, we also sought to clarify the maritime entitlements and the extent of the disputes in the South China Sea through the legal process provided for under UNCLOS.

The rule of law, particularly adherence to international law, facilitates a stable and predictable regional and global environment. This benefits every nation, big or small, as it very much levels the playing field as a great equalizer.

With this view, the Philippines filed an arbitration case in January 2013. We sought a firm and clear interpretation of UNCLOS from the Arbitral Tribunal set up by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in accordance with Annex VII of the Convention.

On 12 July 2016, the Tribunal issued its decision on the case. Our experts have studied this Award with the care and thoroughness it deserves, and it is clear that the Philippine case has been vindicated.

The award is final, binding, and now provides a basis for a rules-based approach for resolving disputes in the South China Sea.

Now part of the international jurisprudence related to maritime domain, the Philippines affirms its full respect for this milestone decision. The Award upholds the primacy of UNCLOS and an important contribution to ongoing efforts to peacefully manage and resolve disputes in the South China Sea.  

There is wide recognition that the arbitral proceedings the Philippines initiated, strengthened the region’s security architecture, with an emphasis on the value and primacy of the rule of law.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Philippines is ready to engage all relevant stakeholders, especially the claimant-states. We are confident that the Award will help in finding ways forward to resolve the disputes. At the same time, we are also bound by the Philippine Constitution that mandates us to pursue an independent foreign policy with the paramount consideration for national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination; puts premium on amity with all nations; and renounces war as an instrument of national policy.

The Philippines believes that the management of disputes and their eventual resolution requires a climate of trust and confidence, which can only be built if all parties adhere to a set of rules and principles accepted by the international community.

We, thus, recognize the role Track II diplomacy can play to help persuade all parties concerned to fully respect the legal and diplomatic processes founded on a rules-based approach.

You are all our partners in ensuring peace and stability in the region.  And as we seek to sustain precious peace and stability, is it important to build on our gains in the past. 

This is now our time to solidify these gains. This is now a defining moment to leave an imprint on our efforts to hold conflict at bay, to sustain peace, and to nurture cooperation among nations.

As I wish you a productive conference, may I end with quote from an ancient writing which declared: “Come, let us reason together.”

Thank you.