MANILA, Philippines — Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal sounded the alarm on President Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks comparing the Philippines’ award in the West Philippine Sea arbitration to a piece of paper he will throw away.
In a tweet video report by News5, Batongbacal noted Duterte’s statement echoed what China said when it lost in the international tribunal in 2016. “Nakakabahala po iyan (That is worrying),” he said.
“Nakakalungkot na madinig na kung sino pa yung nanalo siya pa yung nagpawalang bahala sa kung gaano kahalaga itong sinasabi niyang papel na ito… Nakakabahala po iyan,” Batongbacal, currently a University of the Philippines College of Law professor, said.
Referring to the Philippines’ win, Duterte said on Wednesday night in Filipino: “That paper in reality between nations, that paper is nothing. Whoever is tough, the United States, the United Kingdom, they can do whatever they want. We won. When I came into office the ships where already in the West Philippine Sea, Chinese boats, we have nothing.”
He added that he “pursued” the arbitral ruling but “nothing happened.”
But Batongbacal noted that in the past years, Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, referred to this arbitral award as basis to challenge the excessive claims of China.
“It is not right that who won is the one saying that this is just all trash,” he added.
Rep. Manuel Cabochan III (Magdalo party-list) also slammed Duterte’s “defeatist stance” on the West Philippine Sea.
A former Philippine Navy officer, Cabochan said the president’s remarks “are detrimental to our claims. Instead of protecting our rights and territory, he turns into a lawyer for China.”
"Duterte is out of his mind. The arbitration win of the Philippines is not just a piece is paper. It is a legal affirmation of what is ours; an affirmation that China's claims are baseless and illegal," he added.
Carpio takes on Duterte’s challenge for debate
In the same speech that aired Wednesday night, Duterte also challenged retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, part of the Philippine delegation in the West Philippine Sea arbitration, to a debate.
The president said in Filipino: “Supreme Court justice, we’re both lawyers. You want a debate? I have two, three questions. Who ordered the retreat? And what did you do after the retreat. Filed a case. Then won. But can we enforce it?”
In a statement, Carpio responded to Duterte: “I gladly accept the challenge anytime at the president’s convenience.”
The Philippine Bar Association, the oldest private organization of lawyers in the country, offered to host the debates between Duterte and Carpio. The PBA added that the Filipino "public will benefit immensely from a frank and straighforward discussion on a matter that affects the entire citizenry."
"The PBA will provide a balanced arena fit for two lawyers of eminent stature and experience to dispassionately discuss the core issues relating to the dispute on the West Philippine Sea. The PBA stands ready to provide this forum for free and at no cost to either parties conformably with its staunch advocacy to promote the Rule of Law," the PBA also said.
Carpio, in the same statement, said Duterte should “resign immediately” as the president said in his speech if anyone can prove he was lying when Carpio was involved in the withdrawal of Navy ships in a 2012 standoff between Manila and Beijing vessels in Scarborough Shoal.
The retired justice said: “I state under oath that I was never involved in the decision to withdraw Philippine Navy ships from the West Philippine Sea during the 2012 Scarborough standoff.”
He pointed out that at that time, he was serving at the SC and his knowledge on the withdrawal of the Philippine Navy ships came from news reports.
“I call as my witnesses former President Benigno Aquino III and Defense Secretary, Foreign Affairs Secretary, and the Chiefs of the Philippine Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard at the time,” he added. — Kristine Joy Patag with reports from Patricia Lourdes Viray