Imee: U.S. Got More Than The Philippines From Arbitral Ruling

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Senator Imee Marcos has countered critics of President Duterte’s rapprochement with China, saying the 2016 arbitral decision weakened the Philippines’ sovereign claims in the South China Sea.

“The arbitral decision may have invalidated China’s nine-dash claim but also shrunk the Philippines’ sovereign claims in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG),” Marcos said, citing the claims contained in a 1978 Presidential Decree by her father, former President Ferdinand Marcos.

The 2016 arbitral decision declared maritime features in the Spratlys, which the Philippines calls the KIG, as mere rocks and not islands, following definitions in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“The result of that declaration is that some rocks are entitled to a territorial sea but none are entitled to an EEZ (exclusive economic zone). This is a fact long suppressed by those who failed at diplomacy and now promote a more belligerent confrontation with China,” Marcos said.

“Because none of the KIG features are entitled to an EEZ, the arbitral decision mainly benefited the U.S., which now has a wider area to conduct their so-called FONOPS (Freedom of Navigation Operations). It also shrinks the area where we may invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty. To think that the U.S. is neither a coastal state in the South China Sea nor a signatory to UNCLOS,” Marcos explained.

The technical limitations of the arbitral ruling and the politics involved in international relations also spell an uphill battle for the Philippines if it seeks action from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Marcos said.

“The first limitation is that issues of sovereignty were beyond the scope of the arbitral court, so its ruling left territorial claims unsettled. In effect, neither China nor the Philippines has clear, internationally recognized ownership over certain maritime features in the South China Sea, some of which are also being claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam,” Marcos said.

“The second limitation is that the arbitration case did not call for specific actions from China. These were excluded in the final submissions of the Philippines, although they were originally part of the Notification and Regionment of Claims submitted by the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) in January 2013,” Marcos noted.

“The third limitation is that the arbitral court does not have a corresponding enforcement mechanism, which is exactly why President Duterte asked how and what should be enforced?” Marcos said.

If the Philippines raises the arbitral issue before the UNGA, Marcos said the countries of the world will vote according to their national interests, citing China’s global investments for its Belt and Road Initiative and its being a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which allows it to veto any sanction against it.

Marcos added that present events like the escalating civil war in Israel and the democratic struggle against a military dictatorship in Myanmar also make a territorial dispute between the Philippines and China a less urgent international issue.

“Clearly, bilateral negotiations are the way to go. The fact that China has not retaliated with economic sanctions nor withdrawn its vaccine diplomacy proves that communication is robust and ongoing, and should be encouraged,” Marcos said.