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'Five years of missed opportunities': Politicians note gains and losses since the 2016 Hague ruling over the West Philippine Sea

By Bim Santos Published Jul 12, 2021 8:02 pm

Politicians and advocates today marked the five-year anniversary when The Hague-based tribunal handed a historic victory to the Philippines in its case against China over territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea. 

In a statement, Vice President Leni Robredo noted the “five years of missed opportunities” since the July 12, 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

"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," Robredo said in a statement.

Robredo said the country’s fisherfolk “remain unable to enter areas that have been the source of livelihood for generations of Filipinos.”

“Alliances that could have been strengthened were allowed to erode, while those who bully their way into our waters have been treated with deference, and at times, subservience,” said Robredo.

The incumbent administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has adopted a friendlier stance toward China, largely brushing aside The Hague ruling that invalidated China's territorial claims over the West Philippine Sea, as the government sought to strike bilateral economic deals with the growing superpower. Last May, Duterte also belittled the ruling as merely “a piece of paper” that he’ll throw in the wastebasket.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin, Jr. also released a statement saying that the “Philippines is proud to have contributed to the international rules-based order, to the affirmation of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).”

“We do not see [the Arbitral Award] as directed at any country… [but] clarifying definitively a legal situation beyond the reach of arms to change,” Locsin said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, has filed a resolution aiming to declare July 12 of every year as “National West Philippine Sea Victory Day.”

Senator Leila de Lima, who served as Aquino’s Justice Secretary, also issued a statement to commemorate The Hague ruling.

“Hindi ito basta kapirasong papel na malulukot lang at itatapon: Ito ay makasaysayang dokumento na simbolo ng tagumpay ng Pilipinas at sagisag ng tapang nating mga Pilipino,” De Lima said in a statement.

Last July 9, De Lima also issued a statement seeking to address the brewing public spat that former Associate Justice Antonio Carpio brought against former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay and Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza over how the victory was achieved.

“Gentlemen, instead of this belated expression of difference in opinions and accounts made irrelevant by our singular and historic victory in the case against China, you should all just take a bow for the great service you have given selflessly to a grateful nation,” de Lima said.

Manolo Quezon, who served as a communications undersecretary of Aquino, also posted a Twitter thread noting how the victory “should also be a reminder of how our country once upon a time, pursued an international institutional approach to solving disputes.”

Abigail Valte, who was the former deputy presidential spokesman of Aquino, also shared an anecdote at how the former president wanted to publicly address their receipt of the decision.

In a screenshot of their SMS exchange, Aquino’s reply to Valte’s advise of the decision expected within the day was, “Sorry for the late reply. I am not clear as to how we can get a copy.”

“He would read the decision, line by line, word for word, until he was satisfied that he understood it fully. Only then would he speak, despite having been handed the decision of a lifetime,” Valte said.

“As I told him after the dust had settled: Maraming salamat, Mr. President. Napakatayog ng lipad ng bandila natin sa araw na ito.”