MANILA - A maritime law expert on Monday slammed misinformation being circulated online that the Philippines has no rights over the West Philippine Sea.
"Misinformation is being peddled that basically we have no rights. The Philippines achieved absolutely nothing and even if there's international law, it does not help the Philippines," professor Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea told ANC.
He stressed that the 2016 ruling from an international tribunal in The Hague settled the status of the West Philippine Sea.
"As far as the Philippines and China is concerned, the arbitral ruling clarified the status of the waters and it actually reduced the areas of legitimate dispute," Batongbacal said.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidating China's historical 9-dash line claim. However, China has refused to honor the ruling, instead ramping up island-building and militarization activities in South China Sea.
The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, a major trade route that is believed to hold valuable oil and gas deposits.
For Batongbacal, the Philippines' greatest strength against the Asian superpower is the law.
"The Philippines, as a small country, actually has its greatest strengths in the law. Because without law, everything will be decided only by disparities in power and if it comes to that, the Philippines absolutely has no hold [over the waters]," he said.
Batongbacal also maintained that China has no rights over the country's exclusive economic zone.
"When it comes to this fishing fleet that they've deployed in our West Philippine Sea, we have a right to demand to ask them to pull it out because it's illegal [and] it's contrary to our rights," he said.
"If we find these vessels in our waters fishing and contravening our rights [and] violating our laws, we have the right to enforce our laws," he added.
Last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs filed 2 diplomatic protests against China over the presence of some 240 Chinese ships across the West Philippine Sea, including their remaining vessels at Julian Felipe Reef.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila had denied allegations the vessels are part of Beijing's militia, describing them as fishing vessels taking shelter due to “rough sea conditions.” It also insisted that the reef is part of their territory.
Since assuming office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has forged friendlier ties with China, shelving the maritime disputes in favor of economic aid and investments from the world's second largest economy.