Legal analysts: South China Sea arbitral win of PH not a mere piece of paper

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 17 2021 01:50 PM | Updated as of May 17 2021 02:18 PM

Legal analysts: South China Sea arbitral win of PH not a mere piece of paper 1
Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares joins other progressive groups in a protest in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati on May 7, 2021 as they call for the removal of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea and for the government to reassert the country's rightful claim over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - The decision that invalidated China’s expansive claim over the South China Sea is not a mere scrap of paper as how President Rodrigo Duterte described it, legal analysts said Monday.

In a virtual forum, law professor Atty. Howard Calleja said the 2016 arbitral award is binding, and that China is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which allows arbitration as a dispute settlement mechanism.

China has no choice but to abide by the ruling, said Calleja.

“Ito po ay hindi naman pong kapirasong papel lang (It's not a mere piece of paper). It is just a piece of paper that has the effect and force of law and recognized by the international community, except of course by China,” he said.

"So, I think it is up to the Philippines to enforce it and solicit the help and assistance not only of our friends but the entire international community."

Antonio Ligon, another law professor, said the decision of the arbitral tribunal has been recognized by the international community.

“Maaaring masabi ko na lahat naman ng desisyon, papel lang yan. Pero itong desisyon ng arbitral tribunal, hindi pwedeng magamit na adjective na mere scrap of paper kasi kinilala iyan ng arbitral tribunal, kinilala iyan ng mundo, maliban lang sa China,” Ligon said.

(It can be said that all decisions are just mere pieces of paper. But the arbitral tribunal's ruling cannot be described as a mere scrap of paper because the arbitral tribunal recognizes it and it is recognized worldwide except China.)

A day after Duterte early this month likened the arbitral award to a mere piece of paper that he said he will dump in the waste basket, his spokesman said the context of the President's remark was "as far as China is concerned."

"In other words, iyan ang reaksyon ng Tsina kaya binabalewala po iyan ng Tsina," Harry Roque said in a press briefing. 

(In other words, that is the reaction of China, that's why China ignores that.)

China did not participate in the arbitration proceedings and continues to disregard the ruling.

Roque said Duterte had already told the United Nations that the Philippines "rejects attempts to undermine" the arbitral ruling. 

"That is why you have to construe his statement in the proper context, and that context is what he said in the UN General Assembly," said Roque.

"The context, the proper construction should be pursuant to what he said to the UN General Assembly, which is the most authoritative declaration of the Duterte administration policy on the West Philippine Sea," he added.

UP political science professor Clarita Carlos meantime proposes that a regional fishing agreement in the South China Sea be adopted amid the maritime disputes and in the absence of a Code of Conduct.

“Let us shift gear. Ilang beses na natin sinisipa-sipa ang Code of Conduct, pinaglalaruan lang tayo ng China. Let us have a fishing agreement,” Carlos said.

(The code of conduct has been passed around for too long, China is playing us.)

Manila and Beijing's maritime spat flared again in March after more than 200 Chinese boats were spotted in the West Philippine Sea. China has refused repeated calls from the Philippines to withdraw the boats, prompting Manila to intensify maritime patrols in the area.

Duterte said he would not withdraw Philippine ships from disputed waters after he drew flak over his remark that his campaign promise for fishermen in disputed seas was a joke. 

Duterte had set aside the landmark 2016 ruling over infrastructure and economic aid, and investments from China.

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