Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Tuesday, April 20, echoed President Duterte’s remarks that the Philippines cannot take back what it owns on the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS) from China without using force, adding that both countries are in a “status quo.”
The Palace official did not elaborate on which status quo he was referring to but based on recent events, this means Beijing’s continuous expansion on the features of the WPS that the Philippines also claims.
“Hindi naman natin mababawi ‘yan kung wala tayong lakas para bawiin kung ano ang atin lalo na iyong mga artificial islands na ‘yan (We cannot take those back if we do not have the strength to take what’s ours back, especially the artificial islands),” Roque said in his virtual presser.
Since 2012, China has been expanding its presence in the hotly contested region. It now has several artificial islands in the waters claimed in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Brunei Darussalam.
Roque said that the Philippines could hold on to the arbitral ruling awarded to it back in 2016. The ruling was based on the case filed by the Aquino administration against China when it built on the disputed water in 2012 after the Scarborough Shoal standoff.
The Palace official, an expert in international law, said that although the Philippines cannot enforce the arbitral ruling, that does not mean that China can complete ignore it.
The International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has no enforcement mechanism, which means it cannot force China to follow the arbitral award that invalidated its nine-dash line claim.
“The enforcement mechanism is based solely on the fact that no country would want to admit they are in breach of the international obligations under international law,” Roque said.
The spokesperson stressed that this is not a policy of the Philippines, but “a reality in international law.”
The only way to enforce the ruling would be to let the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) handle it, but China is a member of the council and one dissenting vote from it will invalidate the council’s stand.
“So it’s not the Philippines saying that we can’t enforce it, it’s just the nature of international law. Sa ngayon na wala tayong (For now that we don’t have an) enforcement mechanism when it comes to arbitral awards,” Roque explained.
During his late-night public address, Duterte said that the Philippines cannot enforce the arbitral award against China without bloodshed.
He also pinned the blame on the Aquino administration for backing out of the Scarborough Shoal back in 2012 after it allegedly listened to the advice of the United States.