PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday night belittled the country’s 2016 legal victory against China, saying an international tribunal’s decision rejecting China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea was just a piece of paper that could end up in a trash bin.
“I pursued it but nothing happened,” he said in a televised speech in Filipino on Wednesday night. He added that between scalawags, one could always say that “it’s just a piece of paper and I would throw it in the waste basket.”
Mr. Duterte in September told the United Nations General Assembly he would reject any attempts to undermine the arbitral ruling.
“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon,” he said at the time.
Mr. Duterte had sought closer trade and investment ties with China since he came to power in 2016, including potential joint explorations for oil and gas in the South China Sea.
That speech should be the “most authoritative declaration of the Duterte administration’s policy on the West Philippine Sea,” his spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing on Thursday, referring to areas of the South China Sea within the country´s exclusive economic zone.
He said the President’s latest remarks were only aimed at critics including retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who have repeatedly urged the administration to stop its appeasement policy.
He said Mr. Duterte’s remarks about throwing the ruling in the waste basket were made from the viewpoint of the Chinese government that refuses to acknowledge it.
Meanwhile, Mr. Carpio said he had accepted Mr. Duterte’s challenge for a debate on the South China Sea dispute.
The President earlier accused Mr. Carpio of having been involved in the decision to withdraw Philippine Navy ships from the waterway during a standoff with China on the Scarborough Shoal in 2012.
He said he would resign if anyone could prove him wrong.
“President Duterte should now resign immediately to keep his word of honor,” Mr. Carpio said in a statement, adding that he was stating under oath that he was never involved in the decision.
“I was serving in the Supreme Court at that time and all I knew about the withdrawal of Philippine Navy ships was what I read in the newspapers,” he said.
“I call as my witnesses former President Benigno Aquino III and the Defense secretary, Foreign Affairs secretary and the chiefs of the Philippine Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard at that time.”
Mr. Carpio has questioned Mr. Duterte’s alleged failure to lobby for the enforcement of the 2016 Hague ruling.
The United Nations tribunal in July 2016 ruled China’s efforts to assert control over the South China Sea exceeded the law, rejecting its shared claims with Taiwan to more than 80% of the main waterway.
China rejected the decision of the international court, which has failed to halt its island-building activities in areas also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The court rebuffed years of Chinese activity in the disputed sea under President Xi Jinping, whom Mr. Duterte will meet during a visit to China later this month.
Mr. Duterte’s predecessor sued China before the Hague tribunal. Mr. Aquino also strengthened Philippine alliance with the US to try to check China’s expansion in the main waterway. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Bianca Angelica D. Añago