MARCH 2, 2019


How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China


Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China. Marites Danguilan Vitug. Ateneo de Manila University Press. Quezon City. 2018; Softcover. 315p

On July 12, 2016 the Philippines won its historic maritime case, when it filed a complaint against China at an UNCLOS (United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea) tribunal in light of China’s expansive claim over the South China Sea.

In this stunning victory, the Philippines won on both jurisdiction and merit—buttressing its case based on history and on the Law of the Sea that had been forged by 167 states and implemented for years. Ironically, China was one of the signatories of UNCLOS but chose to reject the judgement of international law.

After about two decades of diplomatic dialogues and consultations, the Philippine government was forced to seek a third-party arbitration. Former Ambassador to the US, Alberto del Rosario in his speech in 2017 noted that “as early as 2011, Justice Antonio Carpio correctly foresaw the unilateralist path on which Beijing would embark in its attempts to control the South China Sea and advised the use of international law as the best and most peaceful means of securing the Philippines’ position. In fact, Justice Carpio spoke at the University of Hawaii’s Richardson School of Law in 2015 at the invitation of then UH Law professor Diane Disierto and shared a compelling presentation of how China has slowly increased its military presence in the disputed maritime areas and presented solid arguments in support of the proposed litigation.

The book consists of four parts. The first—“The Present and the Past” opens with the winning announcement and retraces the contemporary history behind the Philippine claims starting during the late 1960s during Ferdinand Marcos’ term. The second part “Factors that Matter” gives some context to the case and delves into the three issues that affected the dispute: the security alliance of the US with the Philippines, the role of ASEAN in easing tensions in the region, and the international treaty UNCLOS. The third part called “Main Actors” describes the people who contributed to the Philippine victory, while the fourth called The Case” presents the key arguments, twists, nuances of the issues being litigated. The fifth aptly named “Epilogue” covers the post victory developments beginning with Rodrigo Duterte’s ascension to power as the republic’s president on June 30, 2016.

In the opening paragraph of the “Epilogue,” the author describes the evening of July 12, 2016 as journalists gathered at the press room of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) waiting for then Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay to give the first official reaction to the Philippines’ sweeping victory.

“A hushed silence descended on the room as Yasay stood before the podium to read a prepared statement which was to be carried live on national TV. He appeared morose with no trace of a smile on his face.”

The Philippines chose to downplay this euphoric moment—a reflection of Duterte’s views that China was going to help the Philippines grow the economy—that it would put the country in an “awkward position” because the Philippines needs a lot of things from China. The Duterte government took a defeatist stance despite the gains the Philippines received from ruling—a maritime area larger than the total land area of the country and very rich in resources, because this president felt that the Philippines was “helpless” in the face of China’s perceived power.

The book is well researched and detailed in its presentation of the issues that surrounded the case, which is expected of Marites Danguilan Vitug—who has a list of well-written and thoroughly researched books to her name. The back cover describes her as “one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists, winning awards and public recognition for her reportage on justice, politics and security. A bestselling author, she has written several books on Philippine current affairs. She is currently editor-at-large of Rappler.

The book is available in digital and hard copy format via Amazon. Copies are also available locally at Kalamansi Books & Things; direct inquiries at .

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