Victory at The Hague: Reporting the PCA Ruling
THE MUCH-AWAITED ruling on the Philippine complaint against China over the latter’s intrusions into Philippine waters was finally handed down on Thursday, July 12, by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
The Philippine media have noted the tension in the disputed area since 2011, the controversial 2012 naval standoff between the Philippines and China in Panatag Shoal (known internationally as Scarborough Shoal) being a high point of the press coverage. While previous reports were usually sporadic and superficial in the treatment of the issues, this time the press did a creditable job in reporting the landmark ruling.
The PCA dismissed China’s claim to most of the South China Sea based on Beijing’s assertion of historic rights. The United Nations-backed International Arbitral Tribunal ruled that China’s “nine-dash line” has no legal basis and that China’s aggressive, expansionist moves violated the Philippines’s sovereign rights to its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf (CS).
While the Philippines and its allies and supporters from the international community acknowledged the milestone decision, China called the tribunal’s award “ill-founded,” maintaining its position that the panel has no jurisdiction on the case, which makes the decision in Beijing’s eyes “null and void.” Since the start of the arbitration case in 2013, China has refused to participate in the proceedings.
Explaining the Case
The decision was announced roughly an hour before the primetime news programs on television. It was the top story on the headline rundown, with journalists assigned to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reporting the story live from the field.
The reporters had ample time to explain the highlights of the decision. At the studio end, graphics showing the “nine-dash line” and detailing the Philippine map were particularly helpful, as these specified locations of reefs and contested areas.
Sources included government officials and diplomats, both in the current and former administration. These included former DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario and incumbent Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr, and former Permanent Representative to the UN for the Philippines Lauro Baja.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza and former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, who were both part of the 35-member Philippine delegation to the Hague last year were also interviewed. While these resource persons reacted positively to the ruling, they deferred to the new administration on the next steps that the Philippines should take.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been giving extensive lectures on the dispute all over the world, clarified in the press reports that the South China Sea is not synonymous to the West Philippine Sea, since the latter only refers to the waters within the country’s jurisdiction consisting of the territorial sea and EEZ. Carpio said the term “South China Sea” may be used when referring to China’s dispute with countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and other ASEAN countries.
Fisherfolk who have been deprived of their livelihood by the Chinese coast guard, which would drive them away from their traditional fishing grounds, were also featured in several reports. They said they were happy with the decision since they can now fish freely, but they were advised to be cautious in returning to sea, especially after the Chinese coast guard drove them away from the Scarborough Shoal only a few days after the ruling was announced.
ABS-CBN 2’s Chiara Zambrano, CNN Philippines’ JC Gotinga and GMA-7’s Bam Alegre reported from Masinloc, Zambales, where they boarded the small fishing vessels of local fisherfolk attempting to resume fishing in the area. These journalists captured on video the Chinese coast guard forcing out of the area.
What Comes Next?
Tension in the disputed waters remains. Since the tribunal has no power to enforce its ruling, the Duterte administration is now faced with the task of negotiating with China and consulting with the neighboring countries who also have claims in the South China Sea. President Duterte said he would like to name former President Fidel Ramos as a special envoy to China. Ramos announced that he will meet with the president within the June 23-24 weekend to talk about possible bilateral talks with China.
The stakeholders in this dispute are diverse — from the common fisherfolk to the most powerful country leaders, as well as the entire country. The public deserves to know the measures that the government will take to address not just the loss of livelihood of fisherfolk, but also other economic implications, such as the exploration for oil and natural gas and environmental safeguards. Overall, these need to be understood in the light of Philippines-China and Philippines-ASEAN relations.
Hopefully, the press will continue to meaningfully cover developments in the South China Sea dispute, to help the public monitor how their government is responding to complex challenges.