MANILA - The late former President Benigno Aquino III was promptly notified about the upcoming decision then on the Philippines' arbitration case against China on the South China Sea on the day it was set to be issued, but he was not keen on immediately issuing a statement until "he understood it fully," one of his former spokespersons said Monday.
On the 5th anniversary of the promulgation of the landmark ruling that invalidated China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea, Abigail Valte shared how Aquino, whose government initiated the arbitration case in 2013, opted to first "read the decision, line by line, word for word, until he was satisfied that he understood it fully" before he would give his reaction to the public.
On Facebook, Valte recalled that as early as 7 a.m. of July 12, 2016, she "got wind that the Permanent Court of Arbitration will release its decision at 5pm, Manila time."
After getting confirmation about it, she immediately informed Aquino "that the decision was due".
"His response was typical 75. His immediate concern was, how do we get a copy of the decision?" recalled Valte, who posted as well a screenshot of their SMS conversation.
Valte, a lawyer, underscored the enormity of the award, a "full fruition" of "our best hopes", she said, as "the PCA had ruled in favor of all of our submissions, 15 in all."
"Ultimately, the PCA left the theory of the 9-dash line, pun intended, dead in the water," she wrote.
"I stepped back a moment to take it all in — it was, as some called it, suntok sa buwan. Totoo nga ang sinabi ni Sir — puwedeng tumayo ang isang maliit na bansa tulad ng Pilipinas kapag katotohanan at karapatan ang tangan nito."
(I stepped back a moment to take it all in - it was almost impossible to some. But Sir was saying the truth when he said that a small country like the Philippines can stand if it bears the truth and its rights.)
Then Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario said during the filing of the case in January 2013 that "the initiation of Arbitral Proceedings against China on the nine-dash line is an operationalization of President Aquino’s policy for a peaceful and rules-based resolution of disputes in the WPS in accordance with international law specifically UNCLOS."
Manila's move against Beijing, which resulted after several years of bilateral negotiations failed to come up with solution, was likened to the David and Goliath biblical story.
Valte said she "gently prodded" Aquino for his instructions for a statement, but "he wouldn't budge."
"Before he said anything, he was firm about wanting to read the entire decision first," she said.
Only after fully understanding the 497-page ruling "would he speak, despite having been handed the decision of a lifetime," she added.
Aquino's statement to the public eventually came out the day after, and it opened with: "I reviewed the Press Release and Summary issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the "South China Sea Arbitration" (The Republic of the Philippines v. The People's Republic of China)."
He said the international tribunal's ruling denying China's claims in the South China Sea is a "victory for all", and not just one party over another.
The Philippines' victory against China on the South China Sea has been regarded by many as among the key legacies of Aquino, who passed away last month.
China, despite being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that provides for the arbitration mechanism, is not recognizing the award, while Aquino's successor, President Rodrigo Duterte, shelved it as he forged friendlier relations with Beijing. In May, Duterte described the ruling as just a piece of paper that he will throw in the waste basket.
Valte recounted her message to Aquino "after the dust had settled" that historic day five years ago: "Maraming salamat, Mr. President. Napakatayog ng lipad ng bandila natin sa araw na ito."
(Thank you very much, Mr. President. Our flag is flying high today.)