FALSE: 2016 Hague ruling does not bind China – Duterte

At a glance
  • Claim: The Hague arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea in 2016 "does not bind China," according to President Rodrigo Duterte.
  • Rating: FALSE
  • The facts: The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) binds parties of the dispute to the ruling of the arbitral tribunal. Former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario also reiterated the ruling’s validity and binding power in May 2021. 
  • Why we fact-checked this: Duterte made the claim during his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Complete details

During his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 26, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 does not bind China.

“What will I do with a document that [does] not bind China because they were never a part of that arbitration? There was really no arbitration at all because it was only the Philippine side [that] was heard. Well and good,” Duterte said.

This claim is false.

Under international law, the arbitral ruling in 2016 is binding for both the Philippines and China. Article 11, annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that “the award shall be final and without appeal, unless the parties to the dispute have agreed in advance to an appellate procedure. It shall be complied with by the parties to the dispute.”

Both the Philippines and China are member states of the UN and are parties to the UNCLOS.

The arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague also cited article 11, annex VII of the UNCLOS in its 11-page press release on July 12, 2016, to address China's refusal to accept the ruling.

“China has repeatedly stated that ‘it will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines.’ Annex VII, however, provides that…in the event that a party does not participate in the proceedings, a tribunal ‘must satisfy itself not only that it has jurisdiction over the dispute but also that the claim is well-founded in fact and law,’” the tribunal said.

The ruling unanimously voted in favor of the Philippines in its case against China on the West Philippine Sea in July 2016.

Duterte has repeatedly downplayed the ruling throughout his term. In a televised address in May, Duterte said that the decision was just a piece of paper that he’d throw in a waste basket.

Following this, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario reiterated in a statement that the ruling is “valid, binding, and should be enforced against China pursuant to international law.”

Duterte has also repeatedly railed against Del Rosario and retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, key figures who were instrumental in bringing China to court. – Lorenz Dantes Pasion/Rappler.com

Lorenz Dantes Pasion is a Rappler intern. This fact check was reviewed by a member of Rappler's research team and a senior editor. Learn more about Rappler's internship program here.

Keep us aware of suspicious Facebook pages, groups, accounts, websites, articles, or photos in your network by contacting us at factcheck@rappler.com. Let us battle disinformation one Fact Check at a time.