The headlines say the Philippines has won round one. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has asserted its jurisdiction over the issue of the Philippines’ complaint against China’s nine-dash line claim over the West Philippine Sea. Months ago, a so-called powerhouse team of Filipino lawyers, politicians and support staff trooped to The Netherlands to argue why the United Nations court is the rightful body to settle the dispute.
China, of course, has been deathly silent. Its position has always been that the Filipinos and the Chinese should hold bilateral talks without invoking any third party or the international community. Our position has been a mix of the two. We talk to China, but we tell on it, too. How it has made a mockery out of a convention of the laws of the sea. How it has built structures on islands in disputed waters. How it has prevented our own fishermen from conducting their livelihood in waters that are supposed to be ours in the first place.
With the Oct. 29 decision of the PCA, the Philippine team is now preparing to argue its case on its merits. “The decision represents a significant step forward in the Philippines’ quest for a peaceful, impartial resolution of the disputes between the parties and the clarification of their rights under UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas],” Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said in a statement. The next round of oral arguments are scheduled for the last week of November.
We welcome this decision and agree that international laws should apply—as they should anywhere.
The Aquino administration’s regard for the opinion of the United Nations, however, varies depending on how well it fits the narrative it wants to tell. It is dismissive, for instance, of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention under the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights which ruled that the detention of Mrs. Arroyo was violative of international human rights laws.
Mr. Aquino’s predecessor is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center on plunder charges.
The working group’s decision did not merit the same enthusiasm as it did the recent verdict that the UN had jurisdiction of the territorial dispute. For a Palace spokesman, the decision was merely “an opinion.”
The administration has to make up its mind on whether it would welcome or dismiss the opinion of international bodies on national issues. It is hypocritical and inconsistent, not to mention ridiculous, for the government to cheer one verdict and ignore another.
Then again, what can we expect of an administration that has unevenly applied the force of the law on its allies and friends on one hand, and its enemies on the other?