MANILA, Nov 15, 2018. Patricia Lourdes Viray, Philstar. President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent pronouncements on China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea might once again place the Philippines at a disadvantage, a law expert said Thursday, reported Philstar.
In an ambush interview with reporters in Singapore, the president acknowledged Beijing’s occupation of Manila-claimed features in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.
In recent months, China has installed new missile systems and jamming equipment on Fiery Corss, Mischief and Subi Reefs in the Spratly Islands.
“I said China is already in possession. It’s now in their hands so why do you have to create frictions… military activity that will prompt a response to China,” Duterte told reporters Thursday.
The president made this comment upon expressing his opposition to military exercises in the South China Sea and the United States’ constant naval presence in the area.
Locsin: Not an inch or iota of sovereignty
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., on the other hand, clarified that the Philippine government is not giving up any inch of its territory.
“Absolutely not. I have repeatedly said not an inch nor an iota of sovereignty,” Locsin said in a press conference at the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.
Asked about Duterte’s remarks on China’s occupation of West Philippine Sea features, Locsin said, “I was not present at that ambush [interview]. I don’t really know what happened there.”
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, warned that the president’s latest remarks might be used against the Philippines.
“He is acknowledging China’s possession, so to that extent he is recognizing China’s current occupation of disputed features,” Batongbacal told Philstar.com.
“And he opposes anything that will create friction with China on the issue. Yes, it is a unilateral declaration that can be used against [the Philippines],” Batongbacal added.
Doctrine of unilateral declaration
If China accepts this pronouncement from Duterte, this would waive the Philippines’ rights stemming from the July 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the South China Sea arbitration.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio earlier warned that such statements from Duterte, as representative of the state, could bind the country in declarations in a dispute.
This doctrine is known as the doctrine of unilateral declaration, according to Carpio.
“If the president says ‘I am setting aside the ruling’, the doctrine is that that binds the country if it is accepted by China. That declaration is a declaration against the interest of the state and it will bind that state because the president is the representative under international law,” Carpio said in July.
Under the United Nations’ guiding principles applicable to unilateral declarations of states, “a unilateral declaration that has created legal obligations for the State making the declaration cannot be revoked arbitrarily.”
A unilateral declaration binds the State internationally only if it is made by an authority vested with the power to do so. By virtue of their functions, heads of State, heads of Government and ministers for foreign affairs are competent to formulate such declarations. Other persons representing the State in specified areas may be authorized to bind it, through their declarations, in areas falling within their competence.
Beijing continues to reject the arbitral ruling that invalidated its expansive claims in the South China Sea. The United Nations-backed tribunal also concluded that China violated its commitment under the Convention on the Law of the Sea but Beijing insists on having indisputable sovereignty over the area.