President Rodrigo Duterte raised the country’s 2016 arbitral win against Beijing over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) during his debut speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) early Wednesday.
The Chief Executive, who was among the first speakers at the UNGA alongside presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, said the Philippines rejects any attempts to undermine the ruling which spelled out the country’s marine entitlements in the disputed waters.
“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” Duterte said at the UNGA, considered as the world’s most important diplomatic stage.
“We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for — the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This — as it should — is the majesty of the law,” he added.
The 2016 award junked virtually all of Beijing’s “historic rights” to the waters and ruled that it was inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
Other countries — the United States, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and most recently the United Kingdom, Germany and France — have invoked the arbitration award in their own complaints about Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the disputed waters.
‘Alipin’ no more
In separate statements, Philippine senators lauded the President’s assertion of the country’s legal victory in 2016, saying that Filipinos should no longer be confused about the Chief Executive’s stance in the maritime row.
“‘Alipin’ (slaves) no more! Hearing the President invoke the Award before the UN General Assembly while firmly rejecting any attempt to undermine it should now erase doubts on where he stands regarding the West Philippine Sea issue,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said.
“Filipinos from both sides of the political aisle should feel proud hearing the President express his strong and unequivocal position on the WPS issue… More importantly, I hope that China heard the President’s message loud and clear,” he added.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, a member of the minority bloc in the Senate, expressed hopes that President Duterte’s latest pronouncement is not just a lip service to appease critics.
“We welcome his strong pronouncement asserting the tribunal ruling. We hope he will match these strong words with actions to include bringing the matter officially before the UN as well as seeking support from our ASEAN allies such as Indonesia and Vietnam who have stood up to China and opposed its aggression in the disputed waters,” he said.
“We also hope he doesn’t change his mind and does a 180-degree turn moving forward,” Pangilinan added.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto lauded Duterte for his “cohesive, coherent and straight to the point” speech, adding that it might win an Emmy award for being well-written.
“The President’s unequivocal stance against China’s illegal reclamation in our seas should to put rest any ambivalence on where he and our government stand on this important issue,” Recto said.
“From where he spoke, with the whole world watching, he was able to plant our flag on a territory that historically and legally is ours,” he added.
Next step: lobbying
Former Foreign Affairs chief Albert del Rosario and retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who were part of the team which filed the case before the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, also welcomed the President’s pronouncement.
The two ex-officials, however, said the administration should lobby for support from other countries to enforce the arbitral award.
“Our government should work earnestly to get the support of more countries so that the arbitral award will be raised more emphatically next year. We hope that this puts to rest the misconception that bringing the arbitral award to the UNGA is litigating the case,” Del Rosario said.
“All Filipinos should now unite so that the world will help our country enforce the arbitral award against China,” he added.
Carpio also commended the President, adding that he hopes the invocation of the arbitral ruling becomes Philippine policy “across all levels.”
In his UNGA address, President Duterte noted that the Philippines’ commitment in the maritime row was in accordance with the 2016 landmark decision of arbitration court and the UNCLOS.
He also assured the country’s adherence to the UN Charter and the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes.
In a separate speech during the 75th UNGA, China’s Xi assured his country’s commitment to resolve disputes through dialogue and negotiation.
“We will never seek hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence. We have no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot war with any country,” said Xi, without mentioning the South China Sea.
China has been heavily-criticized for refusing to recognize the 2016 ruling and its reclamation efforts in the disputed areas for military and research purposes.
Duterte, meanwhile, has set aside in the first three years of his presidency the country’s arbitral award that was pursued by his predecessor Benigno Aquino III. In October 2019, amid pressure from the public, he went to China and met with Xi to discuss the matter.
He returned quite empty-handed as Xi maintained that his government would not recognize the country’s legal victory.
Instead, Xi offered him a 60 percent share in the joint oil exploration in the South China Sea if the Philippine government would set aside the arbitral ruling.
In his fifth State of the Nation Address, Duterte even said that he is “inutile” and “cannot do anything” against China’s continuous takeover of the Philippine territory in the South China Sea.
with Hana Bordey AND Gabbie Parlade