UP law professors to Duterte: Act in the best interest of Filipinos, retract remarks on WPS

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 31 2021 05:40 PM

MANILA — Faculty members of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law on Sunday reminded President Rodrigo Duterte "to act in the best interest of the Philippines and the Filipino people" as they urged him to retract his controversial statements on the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, the educators said the following statements of Duterte "betray the interests of the country he swore to protect."

- the 2016 Arbitral Award is a mere scrap of paper that should be “thrown to the wastebasket” 

- China is “in possession” of the West Philippine Sea

- Chinese fishermen are free to fish in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)

"We urgently call on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to immediately RETRACT his statements and recall his duty to act in the best interest of the Philippines and the Filipino people," the UP College of Law Faculty said.

The signatories of the statement include maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te, and former Environment undersecretary Antonio La Viña.

The faculty members described Duterte's claim that China was in possession of the West Philippine Sea as a "falsehood", saying, "China has neither a legal nor physical hold of the WPS."

"At a time when China continues to chip away at our nation’s territorial integrity with repeated incursions into our maritime zones, the President’s statements achieve nothing but encourage further disregard of the UNCLOS and the rule of law," they said.

The faculty members said Duterte trivialized Manila's 2016 arbitral win that invalidated China's claims in the resource-rich waters.

"The Arbitral Award is a victory and the pride of the Filipino people; it does not belong to the waste can," they said.

The teachers said Duterte's statements dishearten Filipino fishermen and demoralized uniformed personnel.

Earlier this month, Duterte likened the arbitral victory as a mere piece of paper that he would throw in the trash bin.

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

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has launched a petition, also urging Duterte to retract his statements, as he warned that those could become binding if China affirms the remarks.

Vice President Leni Robredo said Duterte's remarks have implications for the country even past the term of the administration.

Duterte's spokesman, Harry Roque, had sought to clarify that the President's "piece of paper" reference to the arbitral award on the South China Sea is in the context of "as far as China is concerned."

"You have to construe his statement in the proper context, and that context is what he said in the UN General Assembly," Roque, who once taught at the UP College of Law, had said. 

"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.

As regards which country possesses the West Philippine Sea, Roque in his recent briefings said the country did not lose any of its territory under the Duterte administration. 

He also denied the supposed 2-year-old verbal agreement between Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, which, according to former Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, allowed China to fish in Philippine waters. 

Panelo said in 2019 that the two leaders' agreement for China to fish in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone was "legally binding and enforceable." 

Last month, Roque said "there is no truth" to the supposed deal. He also denied that Chinese vessels were encouraged to stay in the West Philippine Sea. 

"This is without basis and is quite simply conjecture," the incumbent spokesman said in a statement.

Manila and Beijing's maritime spat flared again in March after more than 200 Chinese boats were spotted in the West Philippine Sea.


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