South China Sea ruling useless 'as of now' â Palace
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo holds a press briefing at Malacañang.
Facebook screengrab/Presidential Communications

South China Sea ruling useless 'as of now' — Palace

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - November 20, 2018 - 2:10pm

MANILA, Philippines — Following President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncements on China's occupation of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo argued that the arbitral ruling is of no use to the country at the moment.

In July 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a landmark ruling invalidating Beijing's expansive claims in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

The Malacañang spokesman pointed out that the arbitral ruling cannot be enforced as the United Nations-backed tribunal does not have enforcement capacity.

Asked if the verdict is useless, Panelo said, "As of now, yes, but as I said, we can get what we are supposed to have by negotiation."

"Our position is the arbitral ruling says it is ours but, meanwhile, cannot be enforced," he added.

Palace: Negotiations underway

The Philippines and China have established a bilateral consultation mechanism to settle the maritime dispute. Beijing and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-states are also working on a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

"Meanwhile, from the point of view of the president, we can get things done by negotiating. That is precisely why we have this mechanism of negotiating, talking with them," Panelo said.

Duterte has repeatedly said that he will bring up the arbitral ruling with China at some point in his six-year term although the Palace declined to answer when that will be. 

"We'll have to leave it with the president's judgment on when and where the perfect time would be made. He has six years within which to do it... We're still only coming in the half of his term," Panelo said earlier this month.

Duterte: China already in possession 

In a doorstop interview at the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore last week, Duterte declared that China is already in possession of artificial islands in the Spratly group.

The president warned the United States against creating "friction" that would "turn things wrong" in the region.

RELATED: Duterte opposes military drills in South China Sea

"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 said.

Such remarks from the president may be detrimental for the Philippines' victory from the arbitration, a law expert warned.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, noted that Duterte is recognizing China's current occupation of the disputed features.

"Yes, it is a unilateral declaration that can be used against [the Philippines]," Batongbacal told Philstar.com last week.

Duterte's words could bind the country in declarations in a dispute under the doctrine of unilateral declaration.

Under the United Nations' guiding principles applicable to unilateral declarations of states, a unilateral declaration "binds the State internationally only if it is made by an authority vested with the power to do so."

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