Talking about the 2016 Arbitral Award at the 76th United Nations (UN) General Assembly, President Rodrigo Duterte said the country is “one with ASEAN and other stakeholders in ensuring that the South China Sea remains a sea of peace, security, and prosperity.”
“The 1982 UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea provide a clear path towards a just, fair, and win-win solution for all,” he said in his 15-minute pre-recorded address played before the General Assembly past 5 am (Manila time) on Wednesday, September 22.
This is the second time Duterte has raised the Philippines’ legal victory against China over the South China Sea at the UN, before a roster of world leaders that included Chinese President Xi Jinping. He first raised the issue at the 2020 General Assembly, saying, “The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon.”
“The Award must be seen for what it is – a benefit across the board to all who subscribe to the majesty of the law,” he echoed in the 2021 speech. “No amount of willful disregard by any country, however big and powerful, can diminish the Arbitral Award’s importance.”
This is, however, the complete opposite of what he said in his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 26, in which he rehashed defeatist arguments. He told Filipinos then, “How can we fight China? Do we have the weapons, do we have everything?”
“This arbitral ruling… America and some Filipinos, brilliant Filipinos I would say, keep on pushing for something which I do not know… What do you want? What will I do with a document that does not bind China because they were never a part of that arbitration?” Duterte said then in a mix of English and Filipino, echoing China’s remarks on the ruling.
“Ano gusto nila, makipag-giyera (What do they want, war?) Do something? Do you want war against China?” he had added.
Since the beginning of his term, Duterte has downplayed the Philippines’ maritime and territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea in exchange for economic benefits from Beijing.
Five years later, he has little to show that his China pivot has paid off.
Diplomatic and defense experts have said Duterte’s strategy of trying to secure compromises with China failed to deliver financial wins for the Philippines, weakened institutions, and failed to advance the country’s position in the West Philippine Sea.
There’s also a strong clamor from Filipinos to assert the country’s rights in Philippine waters. – with reports from Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler.com