Press Release
July 9, 2018

The Bayleaf Intramuros, Manila

"Not only for what is ours, but also for what is right"

Distinguished members of the diplomatic corps, our esteemed Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, members of the press, our dear fisherfolk, guests and friends, magandang umaga po.

Three days from now, 12 July, we will mark the second anniversary of this nation's historic victory in The Hague in the Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling on the West Philippine Sea. Two years to the day and China has not only violated international law by building structures on our territory, she has harassed and bullied our fisherfolk by allowing the Chinese Coastguard to take our fisherfolk's catch. All the while, China proclaims herself to be our friend. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

This is nothing short of naked a display of power. And at the heart of this display is a claim to historical rights which is not based on any recognized law or legal principle, but on an imaginary line no one else can validate. China, in 2009, submitted to the UN its "nine-dash line" claim that covers the entire South China Sea, including parts of the Philippines' western seaboard from the provinces of Ilocos Norte up to Palawan.

Whatever historical rights China may have had have already been settled by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China itself ratified in 1996. The ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, insofar as I understand it, is clear on at least two points: That China's historic rights were extinguished to the extent that they were incompatible with the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) provided for in the Convention, and that China violated the Philippines' sovereign rights by interfering with fishing and petroleum exploration, constructing artificial islands, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.


That the ruling's potential has not been maximized and our fisherfolk continue to be bullied in our own waters falls squarely on the shoulders of the current administration's foreign policy. The Duterte government has folded in the face of China's gunboat diplomacy. It has capitulated to and subservient to China's will at the expense of our own. It has exhibited complete lack of transparency regarding the nature of our diplomatic relationship with China. It has evidenced a willful ignorance of China's history of debt trapping other nations.

Government's subservience is disturbing. No less than the President himself has practically admitted to his incapacity in diplomatic affairs by saying that he can't do anything to protect our sovereign borders against incursion. This is proof that his bravado - he promised to 'ride a Jetski' to the Spratlys to protect them -- is empty machismo. In the meantime, China has admitted to installing rocket launchers in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef. No less than the late former National Security Adviser Rolio Golez expressed shock that Government has done nothing to protest China's militarization in the area.

Worst of all is the treatment of our fisherfolk at the hands of the Chinese Coast Guard. Barely a month ago, media footage caught the personnel of a Chinese Coast Guard speedboat boarding a Filipino vessel to take some of their catch. The appeal of our fisherfolk is simple: prevent the Chinese Coast Guard from forcibly boarding their boats to take fish from them without permission. Noodles, cigarettes and water are hardly what would you would call fair terms for trade. If Government really cares about the lives and livelihood of our fisherfolk, it should do better. Because there is, quite literally more on the line here than probably many can see.


Foreign Affairs Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano said that there have been 50 to 100 diplomatic protests filed over the past two years. Where are they? More importantly, what results have these alleged protests generated? If these protests were filed over the course of two years, then an urgent scrutiny on the nature and quality of these protests is long overdue, because China continues to do what it does, and our fisherfolk were harassed as recently as June of this year.

The administration ignores the lessons we can learn from our neighbors. China has a history of imperiling the nation it does business with by hamstringing it into economic debt. I believe the common term for this is 'debt trap diplomacy. 'We don't know what the terms of our loans with China are. We do know that the interest rates on the table, anywhere from two (2) to three (3) percent, are higher than those offered by, for example, Japan which figure between 0.25 and 0.75%. When pressed to explain, this government's response was that we 'need more friends.' Again, who needs friends like that? But friendship is supposed to be mutually advantageous, not (got) one at the advantage of the other.

And then there is the most recent experience of Sri Lanka. Because it has struggled to pay its debt to Chinese firms, the Sri Lankan government was forced to concede the strategic port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease. Sri Lanka presently owes more than 8 billion dollars to Chinese firms. There are those who say that this could set a precedent that China will do the same to all the other smaller nations it does business with. We need to be more than cautious. We need to demand accountability and transparency immediately, because if we don't, generations of our countrymen will suffer due to the carelessness and short sightedness of the administration.

I have called for an audit of Government's defeatist foreign policy. Far too much is at stake. Government has repeatedly avoided calls to be accountable, and it is shameful that even after winning such an historic ruling, they choose to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

I am grateful that we have a panel of distinguished experts who took the time to be here despite all the important things they have to do, to share their insight, perspectives and experience with this subject. This is the first in a series of fora my office is organizing to help enlighten the public about the serious foreign policy issues our country is facing. As this administration continues the pivot to China, issues like the transparency and nature of this 'pivot,' the stakes involved, and the long term ramifications of Government's unwillingness to find a way to enforce the ruling are telling questions that should be explored, both for the benefit of everyone here, and the future.

Thank you too, to the members of the diplomatic corps who are with us. We are blessed to have so many, because this isn't just about the Philippines. The Philippine victory at The Hague is a path that other claimants can follow. It opens the way for fellow claimants to work together and formulate a strategy that upholds international law and protects the rights of smaller nations.

Thank you as well, to the brave fisherfolk who are here with us today. Marami pong salamat. The administration clearly does not have your best interests in mind. We stand with you to uphold them.

Some warn that with the rise of China as a dominant global presence the rest of the global community could be on the threshold of a Thucydides trap, and that our country along with other smaller states, is caught in between. The past 500 years have seen 16 cases in which a rising power has threatened to displace a ruling one. Twelve of these cases have ended in war. But, as analysts have pointed out, that doesn't always have to be. Smaller nations like the Philippines need to be more proactive, individually and as a region, in avoiding this trap, and this historic diplomatic victory should be seen as a vital tool on the way to upholding rights and preventing violence. Avoiding global conflict requires commitment to diplomacy and change, sometimes fundamentally.

And this is another thing that I'd like to bring forward today. It is a fallacy that is being sold by this administration to our people - that there are only two alternatives, silence, or war. Yes, war is not, and should not be an option, for all of its terrifyingly obvious reasons. But in that space between violence and silence, is precisely this - diplomacy. And an opportunity exists to work with other countries to find a way for us to effectively enforce the verdict won in The Hague.

It is disappointing, truly disappointing, that Government hems and haws and misuses sovereignty as an argument to hide behind when it violates human rights, but stays quiet when our sovereignty is violated almost daily, and the rights of our fisherfolk are torn to shreds. We stand here today, to say 'no more.' They like to draw lines? We'll give them one. We will draw our own line to protect our people, and that line is the insistence on the rule of law.

As a final point, I'd like to draw inspiration from a person who is among the best of us when it comes to this issue. I'd like to borrow a few words from former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario's speech when he first brought this case to the UN.

"It is these dispute resolution provisions that allow the weak to challenge the powerful on an equal footing, confident in the conviction that principles trump power, that law triumphs over force; and that right prevails over might." A better rebuttal to the Milian dialogue's 'the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must' can hardly be formulated.

The word "kasarinlan" means 'selfhood, and self-determination.' Today is only a beginning of that re-affirmation. We hope that this forum can contribute to the formulation of a foreign policy campaign to truly assert our sovereignty, protect our fisherfolk, defend the present, and preserve our future.

Mabuhay ang kasarinlan ng Pilipinas. Thank you for coming.

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