Malacañang is not ruling out proposing a resolution before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to tell Beijing to abide by the historic 2016 ruling against its expansive claims over the South China Sea.
"As I said earlier, anything is possible but there have not been steps to that effect ordered by the Palace," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday, September 24, during a virtual press briefing.
This is a markedly different stance from that which the Palace and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) took last year.
In September 2019, right before the UN General Assembly that year, Malacañang rejected outright a proposal to assert the Hague ruling before the high-profile gathering for fear of hurting China.
"It may only have an adverse effect on our continuing diplomatic and friendly talks on the issue," said then-presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
Panelo had also called any Hague ruling affirmation an "exercise in futility" because the UN has no mechanism or international police to enforce the arbitral award.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr had also been dismissive of the idea, saying the Philippines would surely lose any numbers game at the UNGA because many of its member-countries are beholden to China.
While Duterte did not call for a resolution in his first UNGA speech last Wednesday, his strong assertion of the Hague ruling and declaration that the Philippines would "reject" all attempts to undermine it could set the stage for such a resolution.
But Roque downplayed the impact of Duterte's UNGA speech, saying his clarity on the Hague ruling was nothing new.
"I don't think it was a strong message. It was a restatement of an old existing policy. Since the campaign, he said he would not surrender even an inch of our territory. So he is just being consistent that we are standing by our victory at the [International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea]," said Roque on Thursday.
But while Philippine diplomats have indeed been mentioning the Hague ruling in international fora and official communications, Duterte has never spoken of the arbitral award so clearly and strongly himself and before a multilateral platform like the UNGA.
Diplomatic sources told Rappler that some parts of the President's speech, like the portions on "rejecting efforts to undermine" the Hague ruling and that it is "beyond compromise" were new.
His speech also happened right after Locsin vowed to ensure the inclusion of the Hague ruling in the South China Sea Code of Conduct and rejected China's bid to keep Western powers like the United States out of the strategic waterway.
Three years ago, Roque himself spurned the idea of putting the ruling in the sea code.
He had said the ruling is only binding for the Philippines and China, hence it has no place in a code that will apply to all other claimants like Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.
"I don't see how it will in fact figure in the Code of Conduct because code of conduct is what it is. And as I said, the arbitral ruling is binding on China and the Philippines only," said Roque in November 2017.
Roque had choice words for former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, though the latter had praised Duterte for his Hague ruling remarks.
After thanking Del Rosario for his praise, Roque said the former top diplomat should not "dictate" on Duterte.
"Ang sa akin lang po si Secretary Del Rosario, he's a Filipino, he's entitled to speak, pero parang hindi po maganda na dinidiktahan niya ang Presidente. Hindi ko pa alam ano ang special qualification niya para diktahan si Presidente," said Roque.
(For me, Secretary Del Rosario is a Filipino, he's entitled to speak but it's not good that he is dictating on the President. I don't know what his special qualification is for him to dictate on the President.)
It was Del Rosario who led the powerhouse team that took China to court for its unlawful activities in the South China Sea. In short, Del Rosario is part of the reason why the Philippines now has a Hague ruling to use against China.
Del Rosario was also among the people who first suggested that the Philippines raise the Hague ruling before the UN General Assembly.
But Roque spent much of his rant against Del Rosario blaming him for China's occupation of Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in 2012. The occupation was one of the events that pushed the administration of Benigno Aquino III to file a case against China. – Rappler.com
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.