Duterte reluctant to seek UN help in sea dispute with China to avoid 'comedy'

Published May 14, 2021, 1:55 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte is not inclined to seek help from the United Nations (UN) to resolve the country’s dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.

President Duterte delivers a public address on May 13, 2021 (Malacañang)

The President has expressed doubt the United Nations could be useful in addressing the territorial conflict, adding he might just end up getting ridiculed in the world body.

Duterte made the remarks after critics pressed him to take advantage of the landmark 2012 arbitral award to assert the country’s claims over the West Philippine Sea. The Hague-based arbitration court ruled in favor of the Philippines when it invalidated China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea. Beijing however has refused to recognize the court decision.

“Itong hinihingi nila puro papel, puro papel, natapos na ang ICJ na binuo noong — nagbigay na ng desisyon, nanalo tayo. Ano pa bang papel gusto niyong papuntahin ako doon sa — ? Kailan pa ba naging useful ‘yang United Nations, kayo-kayo lang diyan? (What they’re asking for is just a piece a paper. The court issued a decision, we won. What paper do you want me to use? When has the United Nations been useful? It’s just them always),” Duterte said during the second part of his taped televised address aired on state television Friday.

“Wala na saan, ako magpunta? To what body to the United Nations? Nako… Please, spare me the — maging comedy lang ako diyan (There’s nowhere else. Where will I go? To what body to the United Nations? Please spare me. I’ll just be the source of comedy there),” he said.

The President previously declared that he would not resort to the use of force in addressing the territorial conflict with China. He recognized Beijing as a good friend but assured the nation he would not surrender the country’s territory in exchange for its aid, including coronavirus vaccines.

Some groups have criticized the President’s alleged weak stance and instead asked him to step up his efforts to assert the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea especially amid the latest incursion of Chinese vessels into local waters.

Duterte, however, hit back at the “stupid” critics who have blamed him for the latest situation in the West Philippine Sea. He claimed his critics were demanding the “impossible” instead of what is practical.

Duterte earlier said the arbitral ruling was a piece of paper meant to be thrown in the wastebasket, conceding there was no mechanism to enforce the court decision. He admitted that the country’s might or strength usually prevails in a conflict.

The Palace later clarified that the President’s “wastebasket” comment was the view of China, not his stance. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President’s statement should be seen in the context of his UN speech when he raised the arbitral ruling.

Addressing a virtual meeting 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.”

Roque earlier insisted that the arbitral ruling could not be enforced even if the Philippines elevate the matter before the UN Security Council. He said the country is unlikely to get a favorable vote since China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has veto power over any resolution.