President Rodrigo Duterte (MNS Photo)

MANILA, May 7 (Mabuhay) — President Rodrigo Duterte belittling the country’s landmark victory against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration is contributing to its excessive claims over the South China Sea, a maritime law expert said Friday.

Professor Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea said likening the ruling to a piece of paper undermined the position of other countries in the disputed waters as well.

“It really contributes greatly to China’s cause. From 2016, it has tried everything and done everything to belittle this ruling and really turn it, in their own terms, to a piece of paper that you put on the shelf,” he said.

Batongbacal added: “Even other countries around us who are relying on this arbitral award to combat China’s positions and its excessive claims, well, China will simply tell to them why are you raising this arbitration when even the Philippines that won considers it as a mere piece of paper. So, it greatly undermines not only our position but even other countries’ position.”

He also slammed as a “cop-out” Duterte blaming the Chinese incursions into the country’s territorial waters on the previous administration.

“The current President trying to pin the blame on the previous administration and trying to say that somebody else was responsible for the current problem, I think that’s really a cop-out on the duty really of the President and any government,” Batongbacal said.

“Trying to pin blame on the previous administration is really not productive at all. Again, it’s a distraction and it only shows a lack of commitment of the Philippines itself to follow through with any actions and with its own policies.

In a taped speech that aired Wednesday night, Duterte compared Manila’s arbitral victory against China to a piece of paper, which he said he would throw in a wastebasket.

“Tapos sabi nila itong papel sa kaso nanalo tayo, i-pursue mo. Pinursue ko, walang nangyari,” Duterte said. “Actually sa usapang bugoy, sabihin ko sa‘yo, bigay mo sa akin, sabihin ko, ‘P***** *** papel lang ‘yan, itatapon ko ‘yan sa wastebasket.'”

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of Manila and junked Beijing’s claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea.

However, Beijing, which continues to ignore the landmark ruling, has been accused of militarizing also the marine resources- and energy-rich waters, a major international trade route.

In the interview, Batongbacal said he was not also putting his money on the supposed debate between Duterte and Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on the West Philippine Sea issue.

“For one thing, if you’ll notice, lately his interactions with the public has been on using prerecorded messages. I’m not sure whether he’ll be able to do this kind of debate using the kind of platform,” he said.

He added, “He does tend to be all over the place. So, it will be very difficult for a proper debate to be held if there are always constant digressions.” (MNS)

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