Locsin commemorates July 12, 2016 Arbitral Award ruling on South China Sea ahead of schedule

Published June 23, 2021, 11:38 AM

by Roy Mabasa

On the upcoming 5th anniversary of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision on the South China Sea disputes between the Philippines and China, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. described the Award as “final” and firmly rejected attempts to undermine or even erase it from law, history and the world’s collective memories.

In a rare statement issued more than two weeks away from the July 12 actual date of commemoration, Locsin said the Award conclusively settled the status of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea.

“It declared as without legal effect claims that exceed geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. So, it did not throw historic claims out the window; it discriminated among them,” he pointed out in the three-page document first posted Tuesday night by the Department of Foreign Affairs on its social media account.

“It dashed among others a nine-dash line; and any expectation that possession is 9/10ths of the law. Because the mere fact of possession produces no legal effect, such as a territorial sea of any extent.”

The Award, he added, “became and continues to be a milestone in the corpus of international law.”

“It is available to other countries with the same problematic maritime features as ours. It puts one issue out of the way of conflict; because there is nothing there taken by force that results in any gain in law,” the foreign affairs chief said.

To sum it up, Locsin said the Award, which was handed down on July 12, 2016 by the Arbitral Court in The Hague, gives littoral states guideposts on how much waters their features — be they islands or rocks — can generate, where their fishermen can fish, where they can exercise law enforcement patrols, where they can send their ships without permission from the nearest state, without creating a cause of action or a casus belli between them.

“It benefits the world across the board. We do not see it as directed at any other country, near or far. We see it as it should be seen: as favoring all which are similarly situated by clarifying definitively a legal situation beyond the reach of arms to change. It puts this aspect of international law beyond the limit of prescription,” he stated.

Locsin noted that President Duterte himself has told the UN General Assembly that the Award is now “part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”

In celebrating the occasion, the DFA secretary said the Philippines is proud to have contributed to the international rules-based order, to the affirmation of UNCLOS, and the strengthening of the legal order over the seas.

The celebration of the anniversary of the Award is “our gift to all countries without exception,” according to Locsin.

“It is a gift from a country that’s not a power except for right in law. In 2012 we were David all alone, up against Goliath, amid hosts of indifferent spectators,” he said.

He remembered that the Philippines was then all alone when it opted to file a petition before the arbitration court without a friend or ally, “And then we prevailed; or rather right prevailed.”

“Might does not make right. But then neither does right make might. Right alone produces almost nothing: nothing but conviction. And that we have. That the rest of the world is coming around to our point of view means as little to us now as it did then when we fought alone. But my President has been more courteous by saying at the UN: “We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for – the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This is the majesty of law,” he continued.

Locsin emphasized that the Philippines is committed to a peaceful South China Sea “for as long as it exists”.

“For as long as nations abide by the rule of law and not of military might, the Award is the North Star that will keep us on course in the present, and that will point us back to the right direction in the future should we, in a moment of weakness or inaction, lose our way,” he said.