Celebrating the fifth year of the arbitral tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea, overwhelmingly won by the Philippines, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Award is “final” and Manila “firmly rejects attempts to undermine it”.
In a statement issued through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Locsin said: “The Award conclusively settled the status of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea. It declared as without legal effect claims that exceed geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
While it did not throw the historic claims out of the window, the top diplomat said the decision “discriminated among them”.
“It dashed among others a nine-dash line; and any expectation that possession is 9/10ths of the law. Because the mere fact of possession produces no legal effect, such as a territorial sea of any extent,” he explained.
He added that the award has become and “continues to be a milestone in the corpus of international law”.
He said it serves as a guidepost for littoral states with similar concerns because it spells out “how much waters their features — be they islands or rocks — can generate, where their fishermen can fish, where they can exercise law enforcement patrols, where they can send their ships without permission from the nearest state, without creating a cause of action or a casus belli between them”.
“It benefits the world across the board. 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.
He also recalled the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte before the United Nations General Assembly, that the ruling “is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
“The Philippines is proud to have contributed to the international rules-based order, to the affirmation of UNCLOS, and the strengthening of the legal order over the seas,” he said.
For Locsin, the ruling contributes to the international rules-based order and the strengthening of the legal order over the seas — a legacy the Philippines leaves to mankind.
“It is a gift from a country that’s not a power except for right in law. In 2012 we were David all alone, up against Goliath, amid hosts of indifferent spectators. We had not a friend or ally; we were lucky to get any attention at all. And then we prevailed; or rather right prevailed,” he said.
“For the Arbitral Award was given to a set of maritime circumstances that would be as true in our waters as in others’. It is the legacy that a not-rich country leaves to mankind along with a greater prospect of peace and cooperation,” he added.
Locsin said the country is committed to achieving a peaceful South China Sea “for as long as it exists”.
“The Philippines is committed to this for as long as it exists. 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.
The arbitration case, initiated by the Philippine government, ruled on July 12, 2016 that China’s claims under the so-called nine-dash line have no basis in law.