Robredo laments Duterte admin's ‘cowardice’ in defending West PH Sea vs China

Vice President Leni Robredo criticized the failure of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to defend Manila’s historic tribunal victory against China over the West Philippine Sea.

Robredo lamented on Monday, July 12, the “missed opportunities” over the West Philippine Sea as the country commemorated the fifth anniversary of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling that struck down Beijing’s expansive claim over the South China Sea.

The Vice President hopes that despite the “cowardice and neglect” of the Duterte administration, Filipinos would once again find dignity and national pride in the West Philippine Sea. 

“On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague enshrined in international law the validity of our claims in the West Philippine Sea. Since then, national leadership has yet to fully flex the ruling as an instrument to pursue our national interests, failing to invoke it in strong enough terms in the forums that matter most,” the Philippine opposition leader said in a statement.

Robredo has long been criticizing Duterte for his defeatist position on China’s continued militarization of the West Philippine Sea – a part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines, but which Beijing is falsely claiming as its own. The Vice President once said China's presence in Philippine waters is the "most serious external threat" since World War II.

She also said the Philippines allowed its alliances with other countries to erode "while those who bully their way into our waters have been treated with deference, and at times, subservience.”

For Robredo, the tribunal’s decision on the Philippine case against China is now a “definitive part of international law.”

“It cannot be erased from the history books, and cannot be denied despite the unending lies spewed forth by a formidable machinery of disinformation,” said the Vice President. 

She then told Filipinos that the commemoration of the Philippines’ tribunal victory against China should remind and challenge them to fight for their sovereignty. 

“Today’s commemoration is a reminder, a challenge, and a promise: That if only we can remember, if only we can unite, if only we can rediscover our spirit and once again stand for what is right – we will find, beneath the rubble of cowardice and neglect, our courage, our dignity, and our national pride,” said Robredo. 

Duterte has been downplaying the arbitral victory numerous times in exchange for loans and grants from Beijing. He claims that insisting on the Philippines' legal triumph would only spark war with China. 

But critics have said the Philippines can forge stronger alliances with other nations to put more pressure on China to leave the West Philippine Sea. –

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.