Duterte can't set aside PH arbitration win vs China: envoy

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 19 2016 03:21 PM | Updated as of Dec 20 2016 01:25 AM

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, October 20, 2016. Thomas Peter, Reuters

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte may be violating an international agreement on settling maritime disputes if he "sets aside" the Philippines' arbitration victory over China, a former United Nations envoy warned on Monday.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that the ruling "shall be complied with by the parties to the dispute," said retired Ambassador Lauro Baja Jr.

"If he sets aside (the ruling), which in the first place he cannot do, then he may be accused of violating the provisions of UNCLOS," he told ABS-CBN News.

Baja said Duterte's statement was "rather unseemly" and "undermines" the Philippines' claim to the resource-rich South China Sea.

"We are so much under the spell of China. We were seduced by China so much," Baja said.

Duterte also declared Saturday that he "will not impose anything on China" even if a US think tank report said Beijing had installed weapons on artificial islands in the area.

The President might still "change his tune again" and decide to press China to honor the arbitral ruling, said Prof. Jay Batongbacal, director of the U.P. Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

But that would be "too late" because "the facts on the ground will have already changed so much that it will be pointless," Batongbacal said.

"By the time he does make that decision, we will have no credibility at all with the international community and therefore you cannot even any kind of leverage using that decision," he said.

"You will make it a paper victory."