Hague ruling on West Philippine Sea

5 years on, Philippines hails ‘legacy’ of Hague ruling

Sofia Tomacruz
5 years on, Philippines hails ‘legacy’ of Hague ruling

TOP DIPLOMAT. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

Screenshot from DFA video

The Department of Foreign Affairs says the country commits to reject attempts to 'erase' the award, in one of its strongest statements on the 2016 Hague ruling

The Philippines paid tribute to the 2016 Hague ruling asserting its rights in the West Philippine Sea, announcing a commitment to reject attempts to “undermine” or “erase” the landmark award ahead of its fifth anniversary on July 12. 

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr’s statement, released on Wednesday, June 23, is the among the strongest to date on the arbitral award, marking the second year the Philippines has forcefully backed the ruling after years of downplaying its legal victory.  

In a recorded speech, Locsin declared the award was a “milestone” in international law as it struck down as illegal China’s excessive claims in Philippine waters, which violated the extent of maritime entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

“The Award conclusively settled the status of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea… It did not throw historic claims out the window; it discriminated among them. It dashed among others a nine-dash line; and any expectation that possession is 9/10ths of the law,” Locsin said. 

In commemorating the award, he added the Philippines took “pride” in its contribution to a rules-based order and strengthening of peace and order over the seas. Locsin had touted the Hague ruling as the Philippines “gift” to all countries “without exception,” and one that benefited the world beyond the South China Sea. 

“It is a gift from a country that’s not a power except for right in law,” he said. “It is the legacy that a-not-rich country leaves to mankind along with a greater prospect of peace and cooperation.”

“The present that we need and the future that we want is a peaceful South China Sea. The Philippines is committed to this for as long as it exists,” Locsin said. 

‘North Star’

Locsin’s statement is a marked turnaround following years of downplaying the award by the Duterte administration.

In the months that followed the handing down of the ruling in July 2016, the Philippines refused to enforce the award to avoid imposing on Beijing, while the Asian giant has consistently rejected calls to recognize it.

In 2020, Locsin had spoken forcefully about the Hague ruling, calling it a “non-negotiable” that the Philippines would enforce “without any possibility of compromise or change.” The top diplomat’s response had been further amplified by President Rodrigo Duterte, who told world leaders in the United Nations 75th General Assembly that the award was “beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”

Locsin’s latest statement marking the fifth anniversary of the award comes weeks after Duterte used a televised address to disparage critics and belittle the ruling, saying it should end up in the trash bin

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For the Philippines, Locsin said, the arbitral award will serve as its “North Star.”

“For as long as nations abide by the rule of law and not of military might, the Award is the North Star that will keep us on course in the present, and that will point us back to the right direction in the future should we, in a moment of weakness or inaction, lose our way,” he said. 

Locsin also made clear that the award was one that could be used by other countries “with the same problematic maritime features” as the Philippines.” 

“We do not see it as directed at any other country, near or far.  We see it as it should be seen: as favoring all which are similarly situated by clarifying definitively a legal situation beyond the reach of arms to change.  It puts this aspect of international law beyond the limit of prescription,” he said. 

In recent months, the Philippines had renewed a push to publicly call out China over its aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, after hundreds of ships believed to be manned by Beijing’s maritime militia swarmed reefs and other maritime features. 

The presence of Chinese ships lingering in the area for weeks drew sharp rebuke from the Philippines’ defense and foreign secretaries and triggered the filing of daily diplomatic protests.

Experts have urged Southeast Asian countries to use the Hague ruling as a way to push back against China’s actions in their exclusive economic zones. More countries have since backed the ruling, calling on China to abide by the award. 

Read Locsin’s full statement below:

– Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.