MANILA — A maritime law expert on Tuesday said President Rodrigo Duterte’s “contradicting” statements on the arbitral award during his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) reflected his lack of understanding of the Philippines’ position over the matter.
Duterte, in his SONA, repeated his statement before the UN General Assembly in September last year where he said that the award is now part of international law “beyond compromise and beyond the reach of the passing governments to dilute, to diminish or abandon.”
Yet, he also said the award does not bind China and “there was really no arbitration at all because it was only the Philippine side who was heard.”
According to UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea director Jay Batongbacal, Duterte echoed the position of China which has refused to recognize the arbitral award, calling it “illegal, null and void.”
"Una, sinabi niya na pinaninidigan daw ang arbitration. At inulit niya ang sinabi niya sa UN General Assembly na hindi raw papayag na ma-undermine ang decision. And then a few minutes later, sasabihin niya wala namang arbitration. So, contradicting. Kaya parang ang lumalabas, talagang hindi niya naiintindihan kahit ang sinasabi niya,” Batongbacal said in a phone interview.
(He first said that we are upholding the arbitration. And he repeated his statement before the UN General Assembly, that we won't allow the decision to be undermined. And then, a few minutes later, he said there was really no arbitration. So, it's contradicting. This shows he doesn't understand what he is talking about.)
Batongbacal said Duterte effectively reinforced China's position.
"There’s a bit of danger there, kasi nga gagamitin sigurado iyan ng Tsina. Iyong sinabi niya na wala naman talagang arbitration kasi hindi nag-participate ang China, eh iyon mismo ang posisyon ng China tungkol dito. Inuulit niya ang posisyon ng China every time tinutuligsa nila itong arbitration. So parang kinakampihan niya talaga ang China kumbaga," he said.
(There's a bit of danger there, because for sure, China will take advantage of that statement. His statement that there was no arbitration because China did not participate, is actually China's position on the matter. He is echoing the portion of China every time the arbitration is being criticized. So, it appears he is take the side of China.)
The President’s officials, Batongbacal said, must do some damage control to clarify the President’s statement.
“Dapat ang Pilipinas manindigan pa rin doon sa tama... At kahit na may nasabi ang Presidente na ganyan, hindi iyan ang totoong posisyon ng bansa. Hindi niya dala ang buong bansa diyan sa mga pananalita niyang napaka-reckless at hindi pinag-iisipan,” added Batongbacal.
(The Philippines should take a stand for what is right... Even though he made those statements, that is not position of the country. He doesn't have the backing of the country when he issued those reckless and not-well-thought-out remarks.)
In May this year, Duterte called the victory in the arbitral tribunal a mere piece of paper that he would throw in the waste basket.
The arbitral award was promulgated in July 2016 just days after Duterte assumed power. He temporarily shelved the ruling as he forged friendlier relations with China to seek investments and aid.