MANILA - The Philippines should now strategize how it can assert its tribunal victory over China in the South China Sea dispute, a former government lawyer said Saturday.
The Hague Tribunal Court’s ruling in favor of the Philippines serves as a “powerful leverage” for the country, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said.
“In the end, what we were able to do was clarify all the claims in our favor whereas before there was lack of clarity, now our rights are in high-definition,” Hilbay told Nancy Irlanda on Dateline Philippines Weekend.
Hilbay, who was also part of the Philippine delegation to The Hague, hopes that the rights won by the country in the arbitral decision would be “strategically imposed” by the Duterte administration.
“We have won certain rights as have been declared in our favor but rights as you may know can be waived. The hope is that they are not waived implicitly or impliedly by the administration as it embarks on a strategic enforcement of the arbitral decision,” he said.
Hilbay added that President Rodrigo Duterte’s “unorthodox” way of implementing decisions should not come at the expense of waiving the arbitral ruling.
“The President has been quite clear. The decision is there, he doesn’t intend to waive it. He has an unorthodox way to enforce it,” Hilbay said.
Duterte, who went to China in October, took a pivot in the country’s foreign policy after announcing his “separation” from the United States and declaring that it is now the Philippines, China, and Russia "against the world."
Since his return home, local fishermen have been reporting access to Scarborough shoal which had been blockaded by Chinese ships for years.
“The recognition of fishing rights doesn’t need to come at the expense of saying ‘We don’t really know whether Panatag shoal is owned by the Philippines or the Chinese’ because that is a very high price to pay for the recognition of fishing rights,” Hilbay said.
Though joint developments with China on the Philippines’ maritime zone are unconstitutional, Hilbay said the two countries can still be partners as long as China enters into contracts that are recognized by Philippine law and recognize the country’s sovereign rights to its exclusive economic zone.
“We now know that our goal is to find a way to bridge the gap between the facts on the ground and our rights. We have rights but we need to enforce them,” he said.