MANILA — The late President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III took a "leap of faith" when he challenged before an international arbitral tribunal the powerhouse that is China over its expansive claims in the South China Sea, according to a maritime expert Friday, adding this was his administration's "most important legacy."
According to lawyer Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, Aquino's administration shook the status quo in the resource-rich South China Sea and "changed the legal landscape" with its arbitral case before a United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
"I think that is one of the most important legacies of the Aquino administration... They actually took a leap of faith in a way in favor of international law and actually decided to spark a change in the legal landscape in South China Sea," Batongbacal told ANC.
"It really removed a lot of uncertainties concerning this region and maritime dispute," he added.
The case was filed in 2013, following Chinese intrusions in the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc) in 2012.
The court ruled in July 2016, shortly after Aquino relinquished the presidency to Rodrigo Duterte, that China's nine-dash line claim on the South China Sea, as based on history, has no legal basis.
But this legacy, Batongbacal noted, requires consistent insistence to be maintained.
"Unfortunately that is a legacy that needs to be consciously and deliberately maintained by next administrations... [But] we see Philippine foreign policy swing to opposite side and because of that we lost a lot of opportunities to try to improve the situation of our country," Batongbacal, pertaining to the Duterte's administration decision to shelve the ruling in pursuit of friendlier ties with China.
Duterte has called the arbitral decision a mere piece of paper.
Aquino, who was President from 2010 until 2016, died in his sleep on Thursday morning due to renal disease secondary to diabetes, according to his sisters. He was 61.