Palace: Duterte's 'wastebasket' comment on arbitral award was China's position, not his view

Published May 6, 2021, 7:33 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte mere stated China’s position when he mentioned the South China Sea arbitral ruling was a piece of paper meant for the trash bin, Malacañang clarified Thursday.

President Rodrigo Duterte (File photo/Malacañang)

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President’s statement should be construed in the “proper context,” citing that Duterte has defended the 2016 arbitral award before the United Nations last year.

The President, in a televised address Wednesday May 5, admitted that the tribunal decision that nullified China’s claims in the South China Sea was nothing but a piece of paper to be thrown in a “wastebasket.” Duterte claimed that he tried to pursue the court victory but nothing happened. “Iyang papel sa totoong buhay between nations, iyang papel wala ‘yan (That paper, in real life between nations, that paper is nothing),” Duterte said.

But Roque tried to clarify that the President’s comment about the arbitral ruling was not his perspective but China’s.

“Ang konteksto ng sinabi ng Presidente, iyan ang perspektibo ng Tsina, papel lang iyan na itatapon sa wastebasket kasi nga hindi sumapi sa arbitration itself iyong Tsina (The context of the President’s statement is that’s the perspective of China. That’s just a piece of paper that will be thrown in the wastebasket because China did not participate in the arbitration),” he said.

When pressed the President did not mention China in his “wastebasket” comment, Roque told the media to “apply the proper construction.” He insisted that the President’s statement should be seen in the context of his “most authoritative and most comprehensive” West Philippine Sea policy before the UN.

When he spoke before the virtual forum of the UN General Assembly last September, Duterte said the court ruling was “now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.” Duterte had said the government “firmly rejects attempts to undermine it.”

“You have to construe his statement in the proper context, and that context is what he said in the UN General Assembly,” Roque said.

Asked why the President had to state China’s view during his televised address, Roque claimed that Duterte was “belaboring the point” due to the repeated allegations of former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio that he was supposedly not doing enough to enforce the arbitral award.

Roque maintained that there was no mechanism to enforce the tribunal decision. And even if the issue is elevated to the UN Security Council, he conceded that it would unlikely secure a vote since China is among the countries with veto power.

Asked about the President’s efforts to uphold the arbitral ruling, Roque said Duterte does not have to do anything since “the award speaks for itself.”

“The existence of the award itself is its own means of enforcement. Kahit anong sabihin ng Tsina na binabalewala niya, naririyan iyan (regardless of what China says that it is ignoring it, it already exists) as evidence of the applicable customary norm of international law,” he said.