Let’s begin with this opener of Rappler’s report in Rappler.com on Sept. 23, 2020: “President Duterte dropped a bombshell by raising, in an unprecedented move, the Philippines legal victory against China in a UN forum. …‘The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,’ he declared.”
You, the reader, how would you take this declaration by the President?
Two things. First, that President Duterte did make a categorical declaration that the 2016 ruling of the so-called Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague on the Philippines’ arbitral case against China had been decided in the Philippines’ favor. Second, that the President was taking a warlike stance against China.
On both scores, the Rappler report is wrong.
I’ve repeatedly gone over Rappler’s own report of the full text of President Duterte’s speech at the virtual United Nation’s 75th General Assembly (75th UNGA), viewed over and over again as well the video of that speech, but found not a sentence, or even just a phrase, that depicted the President claiming the Philippines won over China in that arbitral case.
There, too, was nary a statement by the President that he was standing up against China at long last, which would be the case if you place him in this context of the Rappler report: “President Duterte dropped a bombshell by raising, in an unprecedented move, the Philippines legal victory against China in a UN forum.”
Let’s not put words into the President’s mouth
To be sure, the President never said anything about a “Philippines legal victory against China,” as the Rappler slant would like us to believe.
The exact words the President said are these: “We must remain mindful of our obligations and commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and as amplified by the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes. The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with Unclos and the 2016 Arbitral Award. The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it. We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for — the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This — as it should — is the majesty of the law.”
As I explained in my column Reading the President’s UNGA Speech (The Manila Times, Sept. 27, 2020), the President is a lawyer, has been a long-time prosecutor, and he should know whereof he speaks, that what is not stated in the law is not the law. What he did not say in his speech, he never said in that speech.