Ex-DFA chief: Summit best time to push PH claim in SCS

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 25) — The country's former top diplomat says now is the best time to push for the Philippines' claim in the South China Sea.

Former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said on Tuesday said the best venue to bring up the arbitral ruling that voided China's sweeping claim over the contested waters would be the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit this week — when the Philippines takes chairmanship of the biannual regional meeting.

"I think the Philippines... is in a position to set agenda. (The country) should exercise its leadership by making sure that the agenda is exactly what we would want it to be and not be dictated to by China," he said.

Related: Security all set for ASEAN Summit in Manila

It was under Del Rosario's term as foreign secretary that the country scored a landmark legal victory in The Hague that struck down China's sweeping claim over the disputed waters and the Spratly islands.

The plan then was to rally international support to get Beijing to comply with the ruling. ASEAN support would have been crucial, with four of its members claiming parts of the South China Sea.

The Duterte administration has taken a friendlier, one-on-one approach to China. The President has downplayed the arbitral ruling, saying he will bring it up at an opportune time.

Del Rosario believes that time has come — saying ASEAN must push to include the arbitral ruling in the framework of the South China Sea code of conduct now in the works.

Experts on the subject are wary of ASEAN's track record of disunity when it comes to the maritime disputes.

Still, there is strength in numbers, according to geopolitical analyst Jay Batongbacal.

"China will still, I think, be constrained to give way to some of ASEAN's demands if they unite," he said.

The 30th ASEAN summit in Manila is set April 26-29, with another one slated in November.

CNN Philippines' JC Gotinga contributed to this report.