MANILA — The Philippines' top diplomat on Tuesday echoed President Rodrigo Duterte's position that the country's arbitral win invalidating China's expansive claims in the South China Sea is "meaningless for now" because it cannot be enforced to regain possession.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. in a tweet said Duterte is also correct in insisting not to raise the award before the United Nations (UN) because "China has the votes."
"Duterte is completely correct. It is meaningless for now—for the purpose of retaking possession of what China took from us because we let it... And he is right not to take it to the UN where China has the votes, as the proud authors of the Arbitral Award keep insisting for purposes of the coming election campaign because they will be in the news," Locsin said in a series of tweets.
Locsin, previously the Philippines' permanent representative to the UN, said the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will “just turn our loss of possession into Chinese right.”
Still, Locsin expressed satisfaction with the award’s “abstraction” for rejecting China’s historic claim and defining maritime rights.
“The Arbitral Award was brilliant for its abstraction: merely defining what the maritime features—e.g. half the time submerged reefs—at issue generate in terms of maritime rights: ZERO. See the brilliance.”
“The Arbitral Tribunal trashed historic claim as a basis of right because history yields to law. Therefore, if China held on to and got more, the reefs would be within Philippine territory under UNCLOS. How then would access to them be possible if we denied passage through our territorial seas? No way,” he added.
Locsin reiterated Duterte will not withdraw the Philippine Navy from the West Philippine Sea and warned against the Chinese’s forced passage in the country’s waters, saying it will trigger the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty with the US.
"If passage is forced our Navy will fight and that would trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty, World War 3 hereabouts and nuclear winter in our tropical latitude would set in,” he said.
Locsin has blamed the previous administration for withdrawing Philippine ships from Scarborough Shoal in a standoff with China in 2012, saying it should not have done so if it believed that the Philippines had the right to stay.
China's seizure of the Scarborough Shoal was due to Beijing's non-compliance with a U.S.-brokered agreement with Manila to jointly pull out their ships at a certain time, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario had said.
A political science professor from the University of the Philippines said it is wrong for Duterte to blame Del Rosario for the withdrawal of Philippine ships from Scarborough Shoal to end the standoff there.
“Ang nag-mediate niyan, US. Ang ibig sabihin niyan, we are honorable people because we honored the agreement and China did not. Siguro, kailangang maging mas tuso tayo,” Dr. Clarita Carlos of the UP Department of Political Science said early this month.
(The US mediated. That means, we're honorable people because we honored the agreement and China did not. Maybe we need to be more smart about it.)
Marking the 4th anniversary of the handing down of the landmark ruling, Locsin said in July last year: “Compliance in good faith with the award would be consistent with the obligations of the Philippines and China under international law, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) to which both parties are signatories."
He said the Philippines, as a law-abiding, peace-loving and responsible member of the international community, reaffirms its adherence to the award and its enforcement without any possibility of compromise or change.
“The award is non-negotiable,” Locsin added.
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had said the Philippines can enforce its arbitration victory against China without the latter's participation by entering into sea boundary agreements with other Southeast Asian nations.
"The Philippines and Vietnam can enter into a sea boundary agreement of their overlapping extended continental shelves beyond the Spratlys," Carpio said in a forum in July 2018 marking the second anniversary of the arbitral tribunal ruling.
"A similar sea boundary agreement can be entered into between the Philippines and Malaysia to delineate their adjoining exclusive economic zones between Borneo and Palawan," he had said.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the sea. China maintains it owns most of the waterway and had been aggressively building and militarizing artificial islands.
Amid Duterte's temporary shelving of the ruling's enforcement, "other states have adopted the award by state practice," Carpio said, citing freedom of navigation and operations and overflights conducted by the United States, Britain, Australia, Japan, Canada and India, among others.
"In effect, these operations enforce the core legal ramifications arising from the award -- that there are high seas in the South China Sea, and around these high seas are the exclusive economic zones belonging to the adjacent coastal states, including the EEZ of the Philippines," he said.
He also hailed Indonesia for invoking the ruling for a purpose other than freedom of navigation and overflight.
According to him, the renaming of Indonesian waters in its EEZ in the South China Sea to North Natuna Sea in July 2017 is premised on the arbitration ruling's declaration that China's nine-dash line has no legal effect.
— Reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; and Kyodo News