[OPINION] Enforce arbitral award for present, future generations


Since the Duterte administration has chosen to set aside the enforcement of the Award, the task of keeping alive the Award within our country has fallen on people like you and me

Remarks delivered during the Kasarinlan Foreign Policy Forum of Senator Risa Hontiveros on July 9, 2018 in Manila.

The Award issued by the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague on July 12, 2016 stands today as the most important decision under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea or Unclos. The Award has great ramification worldwide because the Award expands immensely the global commons in the oceans and seas of our planet by denying exclusive economic zones and extended continental shelves to small islands that cannot, solely on their own natural resources, support a stable community of people.

Thus, the Award recognized only a 12-nautical mile (NM) territorial sea to Itu Aba, at 46 hectares in area the largest island in the Spratlys. The Award expressly denied to Itu Aba a 200-NM EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] and a 150-NM ECS [East China Sea]. Hundreds, if not thousands, of similarly-sized islands dot the oceans and seas of our planet. Today, states that used to claim expansive EEZs and ECSs from these small islands can no longer do so because of the Award. The result is that there are now far more high seas in the oceans and seas of our planet. The waters and fish in the high seas, as well as the mineral resources beyond the extended continental shelf, are part of the global commons, belonging to all mankind. In short, the Award has greatly expanded the global commons for the benefit of all mankind.

Among coastal states in the South China Sea, the most important aspect of the Award is the ruling that China’s so-called historic nine-dashed line cannot serve as legal basis to claim any part of the waters or resources of the South China Sea. China, like all the other coastal states in the South China Sea, can only claim maritime zones not exceeding 350-NM from its coastline. The Award in effect affirmed the existence of high seas in the South China, comprising about 25% of the waters of the South China Sea, and all around these high seas are the EEZs of the adjacent coastal states. In the EEZs, all the fish, oil, gas and other mineral resources can be exploited solely, and exclusively, only by the adjacent coastal state.

For the Philippines, the Award means that the Philippines has a full 200-NM EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, excluding the territorial seas of islands and high-tide rocks which remain in dispute since an UNCLOS tribunal has no jurisdiction over territorial or sovereignty issues. The maritime area that the Philippines won in the arbitration is larger than the combined land area of all the islands of the Philippine archipelago. And, of course, all the fish, gas, oil and other natural resources in this huge maritime area belong exclusively to the Philippines.

Now, has the Philippines enforced the Award considering that the Award is so obviously advantageous to the Philippines? Last December 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he was “setting aside” the Award to secure loans and investments from China. Thus, the President has refused to take immediate steps to enforce an Award that, by any conceivable yardstick, is immensely in the national interest of the Philippines.