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'Duterte statements on China-held features could disadvantage Philippines'

Philstar.com
'Duterte statements on China-held features could disadvantage Philippines'
In this November 14 photo, President Rodrigo Duterte attends the ASEAN-Japan Special Summit in Singapore.
ASEAN 2018 Organizing Committee

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte's recent pronouncements on China's actions in the disputed South China Sea might once again place the Philippines at a disadvantage, a law expert said Thursday.

In an ambush interview with reporters in Singapore, the president acknowledged Beijing's occupation of Manila-claimed features in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

In recent months, China has installed new missile systems and jamming equipment on Fiery Corss, Mischief and Subi Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

"I said China is already in possession. It's now in their hands so why do you have to create frictions... military activity that will prompt a response to China," Duterte told reporters Thursday.

The president made this comment upon expressing his opposition to military exercises in the South China Sea and the United States' constant naval presence in the area.

Locsin: Not an inch or iota of sovereignty

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., on the other hand, clarified that the Philippine government is not giving up any inch of its territory.

"Absolutely not. I have repeatedly said not an inch nor an iota of sovereignty," Locsin said in a press conference at the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

Asked about Duterte's remarks on China's occupation of West Philippine Sea features, Locsin said, "I was not present at that ambush [interview]. I don't really know what happened there."

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, warned that the president's latest remarks might be used against the Philippines.

"He is acknowledging China's possession, so to that extent he is recognizing China's current occupation of disputed features," Batongbacal told Philstar.com.

"And he opposes anything that will create friction with China on the issue. Yes, it is a unilateral declaration that can be used against [the Philippines]," Batongbacal added.

RELATED: Palace: Never too late to assert arbitral award in South China Sea

Doctrine of unilateral declaration

If China accepts this pronouncement from Duterte, this would waive the Philippines' rights stemming from the July 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the South China Sea arbitration.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio earlier warned that such statements from Duterte, as representative of the state, could bind the country in declarations in a dispute.

This doctrine is known as the doctrine of unilateral declaration, according to Carpio.

"If the president says 'I am setting aside the ruling', the doctrine is that that binds the country if it is accepted by China. That declaration is a declaration against the interest of the state and it will bind that state because the president is the representative under international law," Carpio said in July.

Under the United Nations' guiding principles applicable to unilateral declarations of states, "a unilateral declaration that has created legal obligations for the State making the declaration cannot be revoked arbitrarily."

A unilateral declaration binds the State internationally only if it is made by an authority vested with the power to do so. By virtue of their functions, heads of State, heads of Government and ministers for foreign affairs are competent to formulate such declarations. Other persons representing the State in specified areas may be authorized to bind it, through their declarations, in areas falling within their competence.

Beijing continues to reject the arbitral ruling that invalidated its expansive claims in the South China Sea. The United Nations-backed tribunal also concluded that China violated its commitment under the Convention on the Law of the Sea but Beijing insists on having indisputable sovereignty over the area. — Patricia Lourdes Viray

ASEAN

RODRIGO DUTERTE

SOUTH CHINA SEA

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 28, 2022 - 10:29am

The United States Navy's Nimitz-class nuclear powered supercarrier USS John C. Stennis continues underway in the South China Sea.

The US Pacific Command just reported that it has received "cargo" from support ship USNS Rainier in the disputed waters.

February 28, 2022 - 10:29am

Around 68 foreign vessels were near Julian Felipe Reef and 39 near Union Banks on February 17, satellite image show.

Liz Derr, CEO of the geospatial data provider Simularity, says this at a Stratebase ADR-hosted conference.

In March 2021, over 200 Chinese vessels were sighted near the reef.  — report from News5/Marianne Enriquez

November 22, 2021 - 3:54pm

President Rodrigo Duterte condemns the latest flare-up in the disputed South China Sea after Chinese coastguard ships fired water cannon at Filipino boats. 

"We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments," Duterte tells the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, using the Filipino name for the shoal. 

"This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership." — AFP

November 22, 2021 - 8:41am

The European Union expresses "strong opposition" against China's unilateral actions in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

This statement comes after Chinese coast guard ships blocked and water cannoned Philippine boats transporting supplies to military personnel stationed at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

"In this context, the European Union recalls the Arbitration Award rendered under UNCLOS on 12 July 2016, which found that Second Thomas Shoal lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf," the EU says in a statement.

July 14, 2021 - 8:49am

Geospatial imagery and analysis firm Simularity stands behind its report on ships dumping raw sewage in the West Philippine Sea, adding a stock photo used in its presentation was not used in its analysis.

"We welcome the news that Philippine agencies are validating our research and results. It is all reproducible, based on publicly available sources, well understood algorithms, and the approach and interpretation are validated by readily available scientific papers, links to which you can find in our report," it says.

July 13, 2021 - 2:44pm

The Department of Environemnt and Natural Resources says it will coordinate with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of National Defense "on the authenticity of the allegation" that Chinese ships have been dumping raw waste in areas of the West Philippine Sea, which satellite imaging firm Simularity said has been causing damage to coral reefs in the Spratlys.

"After that, we will be seeking for the attention of the Chinese government through our Department of Foreign Affairs," Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, DENR spokesperson, says.

"We will also validate if indeed these are Chinese vessels," he also says.

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