PALACE BRIEFING. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. joins Malacañang Press Briefer Daphne Oseña-Paez in a press conference at the Palace on Thursday (June 8, 2023). Teodoro said China should adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to earn the Philippines' trust amid the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. (Photo courtesy of PCO FB page)

MANILA – China should adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to earn the Philippines' trust, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said on Thursday.

Teodoro made the statement in a Palace briefing when sought for reaction to the supposed contradiction in China's words and actions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

"As a stronger country, it (China) has the bigger obligation to be magnanimous and show trust and to earn the trust of the Filipino people by conforming its activities to recognize norms of international law, which in our case is UNCLOS," he said.

"We are talking about the arbitral award. It has already been stated by our two past presidents that our rights and our territory are defined by UNCLOS and it has been stated too that this cannot be frittered away or bargained away by passages of administration or passage of time."

His remarks came after Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Jay Tarriela, in a recent Asia's defense and security forum in Singapore, said there is a "big difference" in China's words and actions amid the ongoing territorial disputes in the contested waters.

The Philippines on July 12, 2016, won its petition filed before the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) after the arbitral tribunal invalidated China's claim of supposed historic rights over almost the entire SCS.

China, however, has ignored the PCA ruling.

Teodoro said the SCS ruling was issued by the "independent" PCA after conducting "fair and impartial" proceedings.

Had China participated in the proceedings, it could have defended its stance on the SCS disputes, Teodoro said.

"It is not only important to take into consideration what the specifics of the Arbitral Tribunal said, but the process by which it was done," he said. "So in that same vein, we have to follow transparent procedures and that is the best way to build trust."

During the 42nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit Retreat Session in Indonesia on May 11, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. urged all parties to abide by the UNCLOS to prevent the SCS from becoming the focal point of armed conflict.

Apart from the Philippines, fellow ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping claims with China in the SCS, a strategic waterway believed to be rich in resources, including natural gas.

Amid the maritime row, numerous sightings of Chinese vessels within Pagasa Island in the WPS have been reported.

Quizzed if the government would position more gray ships in the WPS, Teodoro said he has to consult National Security Adviser Eduardo Año and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo.

"Whole-of-government approach iyan (That's a whole-of-government approach). I’ll have to consult with the National Security Adviser, with the Department of Foreign Affairs, and we have to come out with (a) concerted plan of action with this. Hindi ko masasagot sa sarali kong opinyon ito kasi napakaimportanteng bagay ang national security (I could not make a personal opinion because national security is a very important issue)," he said. (PNA)