It was a powerful speech President Rodrigo Duterte delivered at the United Nations last month as he asserted our legal triumph against China on the South China Sea – earning praises from patriotic Filipinos, his supporters and critics alike.
That he chose to drop the bombshell at the right event and the right time was a pleasant surprise. The virtual forum of the UN General Assembly was certainly the right event with the perfect audience, and it was the right time because the session was more meaningful with the UN marking the 75th anniversary of its founding.
It also seemed meaningful for President Duterte himself because it was the first time ever that he addressed the UN General Assembly although it was convened in a virtual format using pre-recorded statements by heads of state and government.
His unprecedented move to tell the whole world how we feel about our 2016 legal victory with the historic ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague was simply stunning.
“The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award,” he said. “The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
President Duterte also stressed: “We firmly reject attempts to undermine it. We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for – the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This – as it should – is the majesty of the law.”
Despite consisting only of four sentences in the entire speech, the impact of his message was breathtaking.
“Alipin’ (slave) no more! Hearing the President invoke the Award before the UN General Assembly while firmly rejecting any attempt to undermine it should now erase doubts on where he stands regarding the [West Philippine Sea] issue,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
“Ang ganda nung speech (The speech was beautiful),” Vice President Leni Robredo said in her radio program as she narrated that the message of the President has been long awaited.
“Noong nakuha natin ang arbitral ruling, hinihintay natin na mag-make ng statement iyong Pangulo na iyong ruling is a part of international law already. Hindi siya puwedeng maging subject of compromise. Hindi siya puwedeng maging subject of negotiation (When we won the arbitral ruling, we waited for the President to make a statement that the ruling is already part of international law. It can’t be subjected to compromise. It cannot be the subject of negotiation),” she said.
“We deeply thank you, Mr. President, for defending what is ours,” former Foreign Affairs Secretary Del Rosario said. “The President has acted more faithfully to our Constitution… we are heartened to know that he is not at all impervious but listens to the will of his countrymen,” he added.
Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio also commended Duterte’s terrific statement before the UN. “It’s something that we wanted him to say and he said it very clearly before the UN. But that’s why I am saying we must adopt that as a national policy and apply it in all fronts in the code of conduct, in the protection of exclusive economic zone and in gathering support from other nations in the world,” he explained.
The arbitral ruling certainly dealt a stinging rebuke against China’s expansionism and had put the Philippines in a position of legal and moral strength to assert sovereignty. But many have felt frustrated that our country was not doing enough to assert sovereignty during the past four years. Some even felt that we were losing our self-respect before the eyes of the world, especially our Asian neighbors who are also victims of China’s bullying.
But President Duterte’s powerful statement before the UN on Sept. 22 drastically changed other countries’ perception of the Philippines. It seems we are on a fresh start and we could even be seen as capable of taking up the cudgels for other countries whose interests are favored with the historic ruling that rejected China’s so-called “nine-dash line” spanning almost the entire South China Sea.
The powerful four sentences in the jolting speech of our President before the family of nations certainly won over his critics in the Philippines – and the world.