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July 13, 2016

David Without The Slingshot

On 12 July 2016, an international arbitration panel in Hague, Netherlands meted out a decision that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and has breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights with its actions.

What does it mean?

Simply put, the islands west of the Philippines in the sea once called “South China Sea” cannot be claimed by China as theirs. In effect, the new title of “West Philippine Sea” has been confirmed in a manner of speaking.

What is historic about it is that we went to court against one of the largest countries in the world which has also the biggest economy on the planet. A David against a Goliath. Armed with historical maps and ancient fishing lore, we protested China’s claim on islands inside their “9 dash line”. And we won.

But is it a victory?

Many experts now claim that we won a legal and moral victory. Why? Because China did not part participate and now that the Philippines has won, China does not recognize the decision.

In arbitration, the parties in dispute voluntarily agree to bring their issues to a quasi-judicial body. As part of the rules in arbitration, the parties must abide by the decision of the arbitration panel and there is no appeal, save for major procedural errors or abuse in discretion. There is faith by the parties in the integrity and sincerity of the arbitration process.

What happened between the Philippines and China was part of the UNCLOS or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Under such convention or “treaty”, any dispute between signatory countries must be settled through arbitration.

The problem herein is that the Goliath has refused to recognize the arbitration. From the beginning, China with all its economic might decided to shoot first (by taking the islands) and not answer questions later. They broke the rules in taking over the islands and didn’t abide by the rules in the dispute resolution. Wait, they didn’t abide by rules, they even didn’t play in the game.

A moral victory is like winning a medal but not the game. Or is it the other way around? Either way, the Philippines cannot take pleasure in the triumph. A moral victory is like winning a money judgment against a bankrupt loser. We win but we lose.

Some experts are now claiming that the Philippines can use this Hague victory and force China to “settle”. Definitely, the cart is now in front of the horse. In the next coming months, the Philippines must find creative ways to enforce a judgment against a loser who will not pay up.

We were David against the Goliath in China.

We won in default. We didn’t even swing the slingshot.

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