Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Tuesday, May 11, said that China honors the status quo agreement with the Philippines, insisting that there were no reclaimed islands under the Duterte administration.
The Palace official stressed that unlike during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, China did not reclaim islands, islets, and reefs during President Duterte’s administration. Roque was referring to the “loss” of Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) off the coast of Zambales in 2012.
“Well, ang importante po yun pinagkasunduan ni Presidente at ni Presidente Xi (Jinping) na status quo hindi po nababago. Walang bagong reclamation, walang bagong teritoryo silang nakukuha at wala tayong teritoryo na naibibigay (What’s important is that the agreement between the President and President Xi did not change. There is no new reclamation, they haven’t taken a new territory from us, and we did not give up our territory),” he said during his online press briefing.
“As of now, mukha naman (it looks like) the agreement holds,” Roque added.
The Philippines lost the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after Aquino ordered the withdrawal of a PH Navy ship from there during a standoff with China. But the previous administration maintained that this was done after an internal negotiation with China, which reneged on the deal after the Philippines pulled out.
During the Ramos administration, China also took control of Mischief Reef.
But while Roque argues that the country has not lost new territories to Beijing, it has turned its back on the 2016 arbitral win, invalidating China’s historic nine-dash line. Not only did the President said it was a piece of paper that can be thrown in the trash, but he has also been negligent in pushing the country’s legal advantage over its claims in the disputed region.
Since Duterte took power, it also barely protested the increasing presence of Chinese fishing vessels and militia in the waters claimed by the Philippines. Even when some 200 Chinese paramilitary vessels were found in Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in March 2021, the President has remained largely pro-Beijing.
The spokesperson dismissed the presence of the Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef, which sits just 170 nautical miles west of Palawan province, and is within the country’s maritime zone, specifically its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“Uulitin ko po yun mga napakadaming fishing boats sa Julian Felipe iyan po’y napakalayo sa atin (I will repeat, the many fishing boats in the Julian Felipe are too far from us),” he said.
Meanwhile, Roque, an international law expert who once supported the case filed at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague, came again to China’s defense regarding the 2016 arbitral win that invalidated China’s nine-dash-line claim.
“Ang pinag-aagawan po natin mga isla. Iyong naresolba ng UN Tribunal of the Law of the Sea ay mga usaping maritiime zones. So, talagang hindi po nagbigay ng solusyon iyong desisyon na iyon na ating napalunan (I will repeat. What we’re arguing about are claims on the islands. What the UN Tribunal of the Law of the Sea resolved are issues in maritime zones. So, the win did not really give a solution),” he insisted.
He admitted, though, that the decision gave clarity to the fact that “historic claims” have no legal basis in international law.
China’s nine-dash line, found in ancient Chinese maps, is the basis of its historic claims of the whole West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Maritime zones refer to a country’s internal waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, EEZ, continental shelves, and the high seas.
Despite the administration’s defeatist stance against China, the Palace official maintained that the Philippines continues to seek a more enforceable Code of Conduct (COC) in the region. A COC must be drafted together with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).