In this November 14 photo, President Rodrigo Duterte attends the ASEAN-Japan Special Summit in Singapore.
ASEAN 2018 Organizing Committee
'Duterte statements on China-held features could disadvantage Philippines'
( - November 15, 2018 - 4:35pm

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

"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

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: March 7, 2019 - 11:45am

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.

March 7, 2019 - 8:15am

Rep. Ariel Casilao (Anapkawis party-list) scores what he calls "rubbernecking" by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in response to reports that Filipino fisherfolk are being harassed near Pag-Asa Island, which is part of Palawan province.

"It was reported in the news on Monday, and two days later, issues are still for validation, amid all the resources and intelligence funding, the Filipino taxpayers are deprived of much-needed and significant information," he says in a press statement.

The AFP's Western Command has said there have been no reports of fishers being harassed in the area amid a report by Kalayaan Mayor Robert del Mundo that Filipinos are being kept from fishing around Sandy Cay.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has directed the military to validate the reports but the Department of National Defense has also said in a statement that "it has to be noted that the area referred to by Mayor del Mundo is a traditional fishing ground for the Philippines and other countries, including China and Vietnam."

November 26, 2018 - 10:54am

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is addressing the Association of Congressional Chiefs of Staff at the House of Representatives to talk about issues related to the South China Sea. He has been making rounds in the forum circuit across the country to talk about the legal repercussions of China's overreaching claims in the maritime region.

Carpio, who is in the running for the chief justice post, argues that China committed its last territorial act against the Philippines in seizing Sandy Cay in the West Philippine Sea.

China is also expanding its legally invalid nine-dash line claim, possibly to encompass Benham Rise, an expansive underwater plateau east of the Philippines' landmass. (Stock photo)

November 20, 2018 - 8:24am

The latest Social Weather Stations poll reveals that 84 percent of adult Filipinos reject the government’s policy of doing nothing about China's intrusion in the West Philippine Sea. This is up by 3 points from 81 percent in June 2018

The survey conducted from Sept. 15-23, 2018 also shows that 87 percent of Filipinos believe it is important that the Philippines regains control of the islands occupied by China in the West Philippine Sea. 

The SWS poll also finds that Filipinos' net trust is at "very good" for the United States, "moderate" for Japan, Malaysia and Israel, and "poor" for China as 65 percent of Filipinos are aware of Beijing's abuses of Filipino fishermen.

The poll used face-to-face interviews of 1,500 adults nationwide: 600 in Balance Luzon and 300 each in Metro Manila, Visayas, and Mindanao.

November 14, 2018 - 1:59pm

President Rodrigo Duterte says in a statement that ASEAN and China are committed to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety and the expeditious conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

"ASEAN and China have seen steady progress in the initial phase of the COC negotiations since the announcement of a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text, and looked forward to the completion of the first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text by 2019," the statement says.

"ASEAN and China will continue to maintain a conducive environment for future rounds of negotiations of the COC. As co-chair of the COC negotiations, the Philippines will continue to work closely together with the ASEAN Member States and China for the early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC."


June 12, 2018 - 10:14am

China Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua says President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed concern on reported Chinese seizures of fish caught by Filipino fishermen in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

Zhao adds that Chinese Coast Guard personnel involved in taking of the catch of Filipino fishermen will be punished. — The STAR/Alexis Romero

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