Listen and respond to the clamor of the Filipinos to defend their sovereign rights and entitlements in the West Philippines Sea (WPS).

In a published statement, the Maritime Law Association of the Philippines (MARLAWPh)  called on the national leaders to capitalize on the landmark Arbitral Award  and to undertake a focused, determined and unwavering defense of our maritime jurisdiction and entitlements under  the  United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

I was the 2016  MARLAW president when the 5-member Arbitral Tribunal  released its  July 12, 2016 decision  in favor of the Philippines on most of its submissions.

MARLAWPh Is an organization of lawyers and other professionals engaged in maritime practice and helps spur the development and advance the interests of the various stakeholders in the Philippine maritime industry, as well as the maritime interests of the Philippines.

MARLAW has been actively involved in the campaign on the WPS issue.

The Philippines initiated in January 2013  the arbitration case (Philippines vs. China, PCA Case No. 2013-19) wherein it sought, among others, a declaration that the countries’ respective rights and obligations regarding the waters, seabed, and maritime features of the  West Philippine Sea are governed by the  UNCLOS.

The  decision declared that China’s historic rights claims over maritime areas inside the “nine-dash line” have no lawful effect as they exceed what they are entitled to under UNCLOS. There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources in areas falling within the “nine-dash line”.

The decision likewise noted that China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by construction of artificial islands at seven features in the Spratly Islands, interfering with Philippine fishing and hydrocarbon exploration, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the Philippines’ EEZ

MARLAW took note of  President Duterte’s pronouncement, in his speech at the 75th UN Assembly on 22 September 2020, that the decision  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.”

Sadly, MARLAW expresses deep concern over the current response of our national leaders towards the occupation by China of the features in the WPS that are within the 200 nautical mile EEZ measured from the baselines in Palawan.

The artificial islands built by China have gravely degraded the maritime ecosystem in the WPS and the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by Chinese vessels in our waters have deprived the Filipinos of their rightful share in the resources of the sea. 

MARLAW strongly believes that the rule of law, alliance with like-minded States and diplomacy especially with ASEAN are effective tools to achieve a peaceful resolution of the dispute in the WPS on the basis of the Philippine Constitution, UN Charter, UNCLOS and relevant principles of international law.

Congress must also urgently and clearly define the limits of the maritime areas of Philippine archipelago as provided under UNCLOS by passing into law the pending Act to Define the Maritime Zones of the Republic of the Philippines.

Another statement was released by faculty members and alumni of my alma mater UP College of Law calling  on President Duterte to take back his controversial remarks on the WPS.

Signatories, including myself, objected to the president calling the arbitral win in 2016 as a “mere piece of paper,” and in saying that Beijing is in possession of the country’s waters.

“When a President speaks on a matter of foreign policy, the world listens. The statements of the President betray the interests of the country he swore to protect,” the  document says.

President Duterte’s remarks  trivialize the Arbitral Award, contradict the country’s own legal position, and effectively waive rights already won.

”The Arbitral Award is a victory and the pride of the Filipino people; it does not belong to the waste can.”

President Duterte is urged to immediately retract his statements and recall his duty to act in the best interest of the Philippines and the Filipino people.

Duterte   recently said that his promise during 2016 election to ride a jet ski to challenge Chinese incursion in Philippine waters was a “pure joke” and that those who  believed it were “stupid.”

UPLAW stressed that President Duterte’s statements are disheartening to Filipino fishermen who look to him to safeguard the Philippines’ sovereign rights in waters which, by international law, are for our exclusive benefit.

The WPS dispute will again be a hot issue for next year’s national election.

It should not be treated as a joke.

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.

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