Press Release
November 19, 2018

Dispatch from Crame No. 421:
Sen. Leila M. de Lima's Statement on Duterte's Squandering of our Legal Victory, regarding the West Philippine Sea


One can blame it on too much napping, but Duterte's declaration with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe upholding freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea (SCS), barely a week after saying China is already in possession of the disputed waters, reflects the incoherence in government policy on the SCS and West Philippine Sea issue.

One day Duterte is asking China what routes it would allow Philippine vessels to take in the disputed waters, the next day he is asserting freedom of navigation with Japan, China's bitter rival over another disputed area, the East China Sea. One day the Philippine President is acting as China's mouthpiece, defending China's possession of the SCS, the next day he makes a completely contradictory statement in support of freedom of navigation. The mixed messaging does not build regional confidence in our capacity to clearly articulate our interests.

It seems that our foreign policy on the entire SCS, particularly that portion we call the West Philippine Sea (WPS), depends upon which side of the bed the President gets up after every nap. Most of the time he wakes up favoring China. Once in a while, he wakes up demanding that China should respect freedom of navigation.

But the reality is that the Philippines under Duterte may have squandered the most solid legal ground it has against China in the SCS conflict--the decision of the UNCLOS International Arbitral Tribunal rejecting China's nine-dash line claim and upholding the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone in the WPS. Duterte has wasted international legal recognition of the Philippines' claims over China's outrageous incursions, in exchange for China's support to his regime.

This is Duterte's most inexcusable act on the WPS dispute, more inexcusable than sleeping on the job. It is already a serious concern that the President napped through several important ASEAN Summit meetings. But it seems that what he does when he is awake should worry us more. And this includes giving away to China the Philippines' rights over the WPS, despite the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal.

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