Duterte is right. The Philippine arbitral “win” versus China not worth the paper it is printed on.

Thing with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is that he calls important stuff for what they are. In the case of the Philippines’ claim to vast territories in the South China Sea, Duterte points out that waving a piece of paper at a global power quietly building structures on territory other powers say you have a rightful claim to translates to jack squat in global politics. Filipinos, in fact, should know better. Right in their own backyard is a clear case study of how documents don’t amount to much when dealing with trespassers. It’s called The Squatter Issue. Filipinos can only watch helplessly as their own domestic squatter infestation delivers nothing but grief to land owners, unnecessarily drains public coffers to evict their perpetrators, slows infrastructure development to a crawl, and provides fodder for dishonest communist “activism”.

Wave a title deed or court order to the face of a resident of any one of the Philippines’ vast squatter colonies and you’ll likely get an ice pick through your liver in return. For that matter, try telling off even a chi chi tita who cuts in front of you in a queue for a latte at the local Starbucks and you’re up for a smack across the face with her fake Gucci handbag. Quite ironic that a key bloc within the Opposition — the communists — are big fans of such behaviour. That’s the same sort of reality Duterte describes in the context of the Philippines’ face off with China. “Nag-file sila ng kaso nanalo tayo. Sa totoong buhay, between nation, iyang papel wala iyan… actually… bigay mo sakin iyan sabihin ko ‘P***ng-ina papel lang iyan.’ Itatapon ko iyan sa waste basket,” Duterte said of the ruling. (Translated: “We won in the case filed. In real life, pieces of paper like that don’t matter between nations. Give that piece of paper to me and I’ll say [expletive] that’s just a piece of paper. I’d throw that into the waste basket”)

We pretend that the world has evolved a lot since World War II. The fact is, might continues to determine what is right. The fact that nations that truly matter invest enormous chunks of their budget on their militaries proves this. Does the Philippines matter in that scheme of things? The truth is quite simple. The only reason China is not moving faster and more menacingly than it already is in the South China Sea is because it is wisely considering the possibility of military action by countries like the United States, Japan, and Australia that pose real threats to its goals. The Philippines’ efforts at “diplomacy” are really no more than a quaint side show.

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Weak countries like the Philippines continue to exist only because powerful countries allow them to. A world order supposedly ruled by “international law” is no more than a glossy pretense. No less than the United States itself has, time and again, demonstrated that its own national interests trump United Nations “resolutions” any day. Military might is the only real currency in international “relations”. Filipinos continue to bank on their “friendship” with the United States to back their huffing and puffing over China’s “illegal” incursions but think for a moment if such a “friendship” is really the two-way street Filipinos imagine it to be. Senior Cato Institute fellow Doug Bandow offers some clues on what the Philippines’ “friend” might actually think of its old chum(p) in the Far East…

Indeed, some things never change. One is the limited value of the Philippines as an ally. Its people are friendly and welcoming — and quite pro‐​American. But it is a semi‐​failed state with a military to match. Manila is a sad example of how the US has picked up the old German habit of allying with the least stable nations possessing the weakest militaries — as Berlin did with Austro‐​Hungary in World War I and Italy in World War II.

In the case of Washington the primes useless partner is the Philippines. The relationship wouldn’t matter so much if Manila didn’t expect America to protect not only its home islands, but also every useless piece of rock claimed by the Philippines against China, such as Scarborough Shoal. If Beijing and Washington end up at war — a horrific possibility — the cause should be more serious than the Philippines.

Recall that when the Philippines “won” a “favourable ruling” from the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague on the matter of the disputed territories of the South China Sea, there already had been little indication that China would be in any mood to respect the PCA decision. China had remained consistent with that position ever since. In fact, China has, from the very start, asserted that it does not and will not recognise jurisdiction of the The Hague over this matter. Second, it had exhibited a wherewithal to invest heavily in the development of infrastructure and the colonisation of various islands in the disputed territory. And last and most important of all, a wealth of precedents had long been set by other world powers ignoring any rulings by international bodies that are not in their favour.

For that matter, China’s behaviour does not really differ much from world powers that pretend to play ball when it comes to “international law”. Consider the behaviour of other countries that had found themselves in similar circumstances. Graham Allison writing for The Diplomat details the sorry record of the world’s mightiest nations when faced with rulings that their governments perceive to be not aligned with their nation’s sovereign interests. Allison cites how “none of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have ever accepted any international court’s ruling when (in their view) it infringed their sovereignty or national security interests.”

One of the examples he cites is quite confronting…

Anticipating the Court’s ruling in the case brought by the Philippines, UK Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed: “We want to encourage China to be part of that rules-based world. We want to encourage everyone to abide by these adjudications.” Perhaps he had forgotten that just last year the PCA ruled that the UK had violated the Law of the Sea by unilaterally establishing a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Islands. The British government disregarded the ruling, and the Marine Protected Area remains in place today.

As for the United States, the “ally” the Philippines is counting on to back any next steps it might take following the PCA ruling, our pal lacks any ascendancy to take China to task on the applicable laws in this instance. The PCA in its final decision ruled that the actions of China in the disputed territories of the South China Sea and its so-called “nine-dash line” are “contrary to the [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 10 December 1982] and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention”. Unfortunately, the US has, itself, declined to ratify the UNCLOS and, as such, is not bound by it. On that note, Allison writes, “If China followed that precedent, it could withdraw from the Law of the Sea Treaty altogether – joining the United States as one of the world’s only nations not party to the agreement.”

The truth is quite stark. No great world power has ever become great nor powerful by bowing down to any other power or acceding to any agreement unfavourable to its long-term interests. As such, China’s stance is consistent with historical precedent overall. The Philippines, for its part, would not have found itself in this position had its past governments exercised more foresight surrounding national defense. Instead, successive governments had allowed the Philippines’ once-respectable military capability to degenerate to what is now less than a pale shadow of its former self.

Since the PCA issued its “favourbale” ruling, the Philippines did not squarely face the potentially embarrassing prospect of having to answer the question: What’s Next? This is, perhaps, where the Duterte administration comes from today. Unless Filipinos can answer that question with a firm slam-dunk, any notion of a “win” here can only be token at best. Considering that the Philippines lacks any capability to enforce the PCA ruling, coming up with a response that saves face remains a formidable challenge. If the Opposition think Duterte is not up to the job of coming with such a response, their “thought leaders” should, at the very least, propose one instead of spending their days whining about what is not being done.

12 Replies to “Duterte is right. The Philippine arbitral “win” versus China not worth the paper it is printed on.”

  1. Like you said, pa-awa effect is no substitute for money and military chops. Might not be good for a telenovela narrative but it’s true. We need to GET REAL.

  2. Sad but true. It’s because a lot of Filipinos are still delusional in clinging to an overrated cliche (sic) “even if we go down, at least we’ll go down swinging.”

  3. President Duterte’s controversial quote that the arbitral ruling in 2016 was just a piece of trash is a proof that UNCLOS is purely a global joke! And also, IMHO, the UNCLOS rule would brought more conflict to every nation on this planet rather than brining an anvantageous part of world peace. That law are too soft and confusing to follow it on every counties out there like China, USA, Japan, UK, the Philippines, etc. So UNCLOS should either be abolished or need an overhaul and it’ll not work on the current situation of geopolitical environment like this one from the South China Sea/WPS issue. If not,then World War III is just around the corner and just like what happened to the fate of its predecessor, The League of Nation, the UN and even the UNCLOS would become an endangered species.

  4. There is no substitute for a strong National Defense. Now, China ia grabbing territories, after territories. The Philippines, is just watching helplessly.

  5. All laws and constitutions are just constructs that you can argue are just pieces of paper.

    So if your argument is that all laws are just toilet paper we should ignore, and we should just kill each other until the most competent with a machete wins and gets all the women and food, then be forthright in declaring.

    otherwise, all you are is intellectually dishonest and morally a coward.

    1. Some documents are really just pieces of paper: take for example, a title deed for 100,000 hectares of land on Mars – awarded to you by the Federation of Milky Way Planets. If a document can’t be backed up by the governing body’s executive power to defend and enforce it, it really is just a piece of paper. Ask UNCLOS if they have the military might or authority to eject China from their occupied islets. Their answer will give you an idea of the overall worth of any document they publish or award.

      Pinoys banking on the UNCLOS award to enforce legal rights over contested waters is akin to a kid expecting the School Principal to spank his dad for confiscating his Nintendo.

      1. Well do you know how much on those pieces of paper (a total of 500 pages) worth for our country to win the arbitration trial against China on the South China Sea/WPS claims?


        And that’s what it costs for those papers! Sad, those trees coming from the mountains would cut them down in order to print the arbitral ruling coming from expensive and useless papers and I thought that the UN is taking care of the environment in our planet but that was a lie in the end. 🙁

  6. How much is the Philippines and China willing to negotiate? Real world circumstances dictate behavior. Laws and written declarations have obvious limitations. Somebody’s greed is as animalistic as somebody’s hunger.

  7. Apparently, the saying “the pen is mightier than the sword” does not apply to the Philippines. The pen requires an important ingredient (called intelligence) for it to be effective. It’s quite obvious that Filipinos in general, who don’t have enough intelligence to remove squatters from their own back yards, water ways, and cities, cannot come up with a winning strategy to take on China in the open seas. It’s ironic that a sprawling archipelago as vast as PH does not even possess a single submarine. Filipinos are a huge liability to their beautiful country. No wonder America threw out the idea of adding a 51st star to its already perfectly spangled banner.

  8. Duterte is inviting China to attack the Philippines since the beginning of his political campaign. The man is a creepy idiot. He talks way too much and he’s too impulsive. He takes one bad decision after another and never learn from his mistakes. Filipinos are so f$%*ing retarded that they’ve voted for him and still support him. All these little creepy monsters dream to live in the west but treat their own country like trash. Don’t date talking against their weak strongman or your a communist yellowtard.

  9. Duterte government continues to insist diplomacy even with the face of invasion by China to SCS and was fooled that if we assert our claim China will declare a war against us. Meanwhile, neighbours of the Philipines such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan made a collusion with China’s military and fishing vessels in the sea many times to protect what they claimed as their territories without China declaring a war against them. If only Duterte will act like them, he wont be labeled as coward and traitor.

    In history, Filipinos have brave hearts and in current surveys most of them hated Chinese people. If the leader is not assertive to what Filipinos think are theirs then this really affects Duterte’s image in the public.

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