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Asean needs to focus on territorial rows during PHL meetings

The Philippines should leverage on its chairmanship of the Asean this year to put on the spotlight Southeast Asia’s most pressing political and security challenges, including the territorial disputes involving multiple parties, think tank Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi) said.

“No stranger to the difficulties in the South China Sea, the Philippines is seeing new evolutions to its trials: first, in the form of Chinese vessels loitering in Benham Rise and, second, in the prospect of Chinese construction on Scarborough Shoal. In light of these
events, the Philippines must continue to take pains to uphold its sovereign rights and defend its national interests against unlawful or unilateral action,” Stratbase ADRi President Dindo Manhit said.

To jump-start discussions, Stratbase ADRi is gathering international-relations experts to present updates on the developments in the South China Sea, the Benham Rise and the role of the Asean in achieving stability in the region at a forum on April 25, titled “The South China Sea: the Philippines, Asean and their International Partners” at the Tower Club, Philam Life Tower in Makati City.

Nine months after the Philippines’s success at The Hague-based Arbitral Tribunal, the government has taken on the task of working with fellow claimants and Asean members to finalize a framework for the long-awaited Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.

“Thus far, however, the administration has not taken the opportunity to reaffirm the award nor address its significance to the region and the rules-based order that Southeast Asia has benefited from,” Manhit added.

Manhit said the forum will bring together perspectives on the maritime challenges and on how the country can act independently and in unison with its neighbors and friends to build support for and uphold the rule of international law and to safeguard the stability of Southeast Asia.

The forum will feature five speakers to look at the state of play in the South China Sea, the progress of international cooperation, and the legal opportunities and challenges in moving forward in accordance with the 2016 ruling.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario will discuss the importance of promoting respect for the rule of international law to the Philippines’s and the region’s interests.

Dr. Renato de Castro of the International Studies Department of De La Salle University and a trustee of Stratbase ADRi will discuss new strategic dynamics in the South China Sea. De Castro’s research interests include Philippine-US security relations, Philippine defense and foreign policies, US defense and foreign policies in East Asia and the international politics of East Asia.

Political analyst Richard Heydarian, the author of Asia’s New Battlefield: The US, China, and the Struggle for Western Pacific, will turn to Asean specifically and address the importance of the group’s unity in handling the South China Sea disputes.

Dr. Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea will discuss the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippine situation in Benham Rise and their importance to Philippine efforts with Asean this year.

Batongbacal was the legal advisor of the technical team that prepared and successfully pursued the Philippines’s claim to a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the Benham Rise. Security and defense consultant Jose Antonio Custodio will discuss the changing military balance in the South China Sea and the importance of international partnerships. Custodio specializes in military history and has post-graduate studies in history from the UP.

The speakers’ presentations will be followed by an open forum with the invited participants from academe, foreign embassies and respected experts on national security.

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