Philippine presidential candidates urge tougher stance on China

[MANILA] Presidential candidates in the Philippines want the country to take a tougher stance against Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The Philippines must rally the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in establishing a code of conduct with China, leveraging on its 2016 victory at the Hague arbitration which rejected Beijing's 9-dash line claim, Vice-President Leni Robredo said at the Commission on Election's debate on Sunday (Apr 3).

Former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said Asean should shift to a majority vote, instead of a consensus, as some members are aligned with China.

Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno, meanwhile, said he would ask the United Nations to recognise the Hague ruling "because our neighbouring countries have their personal interests". China and Asean have been working on a code of conduct covering the disputed body of water for nearly 20 years.

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Manny Pacquiao and former presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella were also among presidential aspirants who joined the election commission's second presidential debate. Former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who led February's preference survey, again didn't attend.

Presidential bets were also asked to weigh in on Myanmar, with Lacson saying that the Philippines - which experienced martial law under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos - should join if not lead the Asean in condemning repressions in Myanmar. Other topics at Sunday's debate include human rights, political reforms and climate change. BLOOMBERG

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