“China continues to insult us with its refusal to recognize the authority of the tribunal and its decision,” says Filipino Anglican leader
Church leaders in the Philippines have welcomed last week’s ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejecting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, and have urged their government to stand fast. “Yes, it is good news, but a foregone conclusion, that we won in the UN Tribunal in our West Philippine Sea claim,” the Prime Bishop of the Philippine Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Renato Abibico said. “But China continues to insult us with its refusal to recognize the authority of the tribunal and its decision,” he observed. In 2013 the Philippines asked the Court to decide upon the sovereignty of the Spratley Islands, a chain of reefs and rocky outcrops in the South China Sea between the Philippines and Vietnam. The Chinese government has built an airfield, port and lighthouse on the uninhabited rocks, and has claimed the surrounding seabed as Chinese domestic waters. The Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam have competing claims over the South China Sea, but China has moved military assets into the region over the objections of its neighbors. On July 12, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, saying China has no legal basis to claim historical territorial rights to the South China Sea. The government of Chinese President Xi Jinping did not participate in the tribunal hearings, and said China would not be bound by the decision. Philippine church leaders have urged the government in Manila to start “peaceful negotiations” with China. “The Philippine government should act and find peaceful means for China to respect the decision, otherwise it is an empty victory,” said Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, the closest inhabited province to the disputed territories. Bishop Arigo urged Manila to “seek help from the international community to pressure the Chinese government to respect the rule of law,” the UCAN news agency reported. If China refuses to respect the court’s ruling, the tension will remain, the Anglican leader said. “We simply pray that a peaceful settlement may find its way. One thing is sure though, sovereignty is a sacred right that has to be treasured and protected at all cost.” Bishop Abibico said.