President Rodrigo Duterte is open to backing an amendment to the Philippine Baselines Law proposed by retired Supreme Court justice Francis Jardeleza as a key step in enforcing the 2016 Hague ruling.
"He immediately asked that it be subjected to complete staff work and he was very appreciative of the suggestion," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said on Thursday, June 10, in a press briefing that included Jardeleza as a guest.
Later on, Roque recited the President's exact words: "Pakisabi kay Justice, ganito. 'Pag mayroong suggestion sa akin, ibigay ko muna 'yan sa office ng legal ng Executive Secretary then it will be forwarded to the Executive Secretary for a recommendation for my decision."
(Tell Justice that if there is a suggestion for me, I will give it first to the legal office of the Executive Secretary then it will be forwarded to the Executive Secretary for a recommendation for my decision.)
Based on the quotes, it is not clear if the Chief Executive has even read Jardeleza's draft bill.
"It's just an openness to study the matter," said Roque.
Meanwhile, the spokesman also suggested that if the President decides to support the measure, he should mention it in his State of the Nation Address in July to send a clear message to Congress that he wants it passed before his term ends.
Jardeleza is proposing that Republic Act No. 9522, which defines the country's archipelagic baselines, be amended to identify at least 100 maritime features in the West Philippine Sea and their coordinates. About 35 of these features are rocks that generate their own 12-nautical-mile territorial sea.
The retired justice, who was part of the legal team that won the historic arbitral award for the Philippines, said this new law would give Filipinos guarding the country's seas a textual basis when fending off intrusions by China.
It would also be a way of enforcing the Hague ruling as the law would be phrased in a manner consistent with the provisions of the legal award.
Jardeleza thinks that Duterte is "on the whole" supportive of the Hague ruling despite the President declaring a month ago that the award should be thrown in the trash can.
"Ang konteksto nun, sa usapang bugoy (The context of those remarks were, it was just street talk)," said Jardeleza.
Asked by Rappler if that then made Duterte's statements okay, he said, "No, it's not okay but what I mean is if a Filipino defends before an international tribunal what is the position of the Philippines, what is more important is what the President said before the United Nations, what the President said in his State of the Nation Address."
Duterte had asserted the Hague ruling before the UN General Assembly in September 2020. Like Jardeleza, Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs often cite his historic speech as proof that he sees value in the arbitral award.
But critics say the Philippine president's inconsistent and often contradictory statements about the Hague ruling are dangerous.
Jardeleza conceded that "it can be argued" that the President should not have made his more recent remarks about the arbitral ruling.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.