By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
FOREIGN policy and defense experts on Wednesday accused Philippine presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. of parroting China’s mantra in its sea dispute with the Philippines.
They said China’s stance that a 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal in favor of the Philippines was void because it never participated in the proceedings — an argument repeated by the former senator — is wrong.
“China did not accept the award not because they were not part of the proceedings but rather because they did not accept that the court had jurisdiction on an issue that was supposed to be about sovereignty,” said Herman Joseph S. Kraft, who heads the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science.
“Their entire argument against the arbitral decision is based on their appreciation, which is arguably wrong, about the procedures on arbitration or dispute settlement in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” he said in a Viber message.
Mr. Kraft said Mr. Marcos needs to have a “deeper understanding” of the proceedings that led to the 2016 arbitral ruling, which invalidated China’s claim to more than 80% of the China Sea based on a 1940s map.
“Whether he likes it or not, it is now part of international law and has to be upheld,” he said. “He cannot pick and choose only those parts of international law that support his narrative especially if what he is saying is factually wrong.”
Mr. Marcos’s lawyer did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.
The late dictator’s son on Tuesday night told talk show host Boy Abunda the country’s victory was “no longer available to us” because China chose not to participate in the proceedings.
“The problem with China, they said we’re not a signatory, we won’t listen to whatever the court’s findings are,” Mr. Marcos said in Filipino. “So it’s no longer an arbitration if there’s only one party. It is no longer available to us.”
Mr. Marcos has repeatedly said the dispute with China should be settled through diplomatic means.
“This is exactly how China hopes to legitimize its expansive claims in the South China Sea and neutralize the Philippine’s victory in the arbitration — by getting the Philippines to officially and completely abandon the award,” said Jay L. Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
He cited UNCLOS, which says that “if one of the parties to the dispute does not appear before the arbitral tribunal or fails to defend its case, the other party may request the tribunal to continue the proceedings and to make its award.”
Absence or failure of a party to defend its case won’t prevent the court from hearing the matter. “Before making its award, the arbitral tribunal must satisfy itself not only that it has jurisdiction over the dispute but also that the claim is well founded in fact and law,” according to the law that China signed.
Mr. Batongbacal said the arbitration award had fully considered China’s positions. “Under international law, it is legally bound by law.” China’s ratification of UNCLOS in 1994 is “what binds it to all its provisions.”
“We must continue to engage the Chinese,” Mr. Marcos said on national television, noting that the Philippines could not go to war with China.
“Based on his answers on the issue, his foreign policy stance is no different from the current president,” said Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at UP.
She said Mr. Marcos had a defeatist attitude and “shows a lack of appreciation of international politics, alliance building and foreign policy.”
Mr. Marcos also ruled out asking help from the United States if tensions with China escalate, noting that “if Americans come in, it is bound to fail.”
Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research earlier said Mr. Marcos “appears one of the few candidates to agree with President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s policy of engagement with Beijing, potentially offering the most policy continuity out of the announced candidates.”
Jose Antonio Custodio, a security and defense analyst, said Mr. Marcos might be trying to get the support of China like Mr. Duterte did.
“Marcos has cases in the US, of course, he is very vulnerable to Chinese persuasions,” he said in a Facebook Messenger call.
“Bongbong Marcos is showing his pro-China bias, which will be problematic to the Philippine’s interests in our exclusive economic zone and the West Philippine Sea,” he said, referring to parts of the South China Sea within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.