Roque: China did not violate int’l obligations over coronavirus

Lian Buan
Roque: China did not violate int’l obligations over coronavirus
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, a professor of international law, also doubts that China will subject itself to the jurisdiction of an international court

MANILA, Philippines
– Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday, April 23, turned down for now any possibility of the Philippine government suing China over the spread of coronavirus, saying no state obligations were violated.

“Sabi ko nga po depende kung merong napatunayang paglabag sa obligasyon ang Tsina. Sa ngayon po wala pa akong nalalamang paglabag ng obligasyon ang Tsina,” Roque said during his briefing on Thursday.

(As I said that depends if you can prove that China violated state obligations. And for now I do not know of any violation.)

Roque responded to a question whether Philippines could seek damages from China over the pandemic, an offshoot of an earlier call by Senator Risa Hontiveros to charge China P200 billion in environmental damages in the West Philippine Sea which will aid our coronavirus response.

Roque, a professor of International Law, said there was no violation of state obligations as of yet that could be attributed to China, whether that is treaty based or customary based.

Treaty-based obligations are the agreements between two nations in a binding pact, for example the Visiting Forces Agreement between Philippines and the USA.

Customary–based obligations are those that come from established and accepted international practices, for example freedom of speech, and a set of human rights protections.

In the US, the state of Missouri filed a suit before a federal court there seeking damages for what it called as China’s deliberate deception and insufficient action to stop the pandemic.

“The Chinese government lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistleblowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said.

But domestic laws generally do not have jurisdiction over foreign governments, pursuant to sovereignty of nations.

No jurisdiction

International courts are the best resorts, but as Roque pointed out, China does not subject itself to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, the United Nation’s judicial organ.

“Ang pinaka–importanteng katanungan sinong tribunal ang magdedesisyon ng ganyan, dahil ang world court, ang International Court of Justice ay  may hurisdiksyon lang ‘yan sa mga bansang tumanggap ng hurisdiksyon ng korteng ito at hindi tinatanggap ng tsina ang hurisdiksyon ng ICJ at hindi rin tingin ko papayag ang Tsina sa kahit anong arbitration,” said Roque.

(The most important question is which tribunal will decide on that, because the world court, the International Court of Justice has jurisdiction over those which accepted its jurisdiction, and China did not accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction and I doubt that China will agree to any arbitration.) 

The Philippines sued China and won before a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal, where the international court struck down the latter’s nine–dash line claim over the West Philippine Sea.

Experts have noted that even though international court rulings are difficult to enforce because it has no police power, suing comes at a massive reputational cost, which can be an indirect way of obtaining claims.

Still, the Duterte government has so far refused to enforce the arbitral award against its – as Roque puts it – ‘BFF’ or Best Friend Forever China. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.