Lorenzana apologizes for ‘empty victory’ remark on arbitral court ruling
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday apologized for his heavily-criticized “empty victory” remark on the Philippines’ historic win against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
“I sincerely apologize to these two great gentlemen (Supreme Court Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario) for ruffling their feelings when I said that the PCA ruling in our favor is an empty victory. Both have reasons to be miffed for they worked hard to win our case before the PCA. It was not my intention to denigrate their achievement,” he said in a statement Friday.
Lorenzana said he did not mean to undermine the efforts of the two officials with his remark, saying he was only pertaining to the outcome of the ruling.
“They have my highest regard for being true patriots, having spent enormous efforts and time to vigorously and successfully argue our case before the PCA in The Hague. For that, and among other things, we Filipinos owe them a lot,” he added.
West Philippine Sea stalwarts Supreme Court Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who are two of the most important figures who pushed for the filing of the maritime case against China, said Lorenzana was starting to parrot the Chinese propaganda line.
For Lorenzana, his definition of victory in the West Philippine Sea is when the Philippines finally takes “ownership or control” of the disputed waters.
“With the realities on the ground, the victory being claimed is premature and incomplete since the ruling has no enforcement mechanism. How can victory be claimed over an arbitration case that proceeded even if the other party declined to participate, having stated from the beginning that it will not abide by the arbitration’s outcome?” he argued.
“Until we regain complete control of our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), and until the PCA ruling is fully enforced, it remains just a piece of paper. It pains me to say this but it is the fact. Not telling the people the real situation on the ground vis-a-vis the PCA ruling and pretending that it is a victory is grossly misleading, and gives our people false hopes,” Lorenzana said.
The Defense Secretary made his “empty victory” remark early this week when asked to react on the recent Social Weather Stations survey that said 9 of 10 Filipinos want the government to retake the Chinese-controlled artificial islands in the Spratlys.
“We won, but it is an empty victory. The Chinese won’t leave our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and instead (they) continue to assert (their) historical rights over the areas within the ‘nine-dash line,’” he said.
Carpio said it was “unusual” for Lorenzana to make such a statement because it was also used by China.
“It’s not correct to say that it’s an empty victory because the naval powers of the world are enforcing that part of the ruling by sailing in the high seas and the exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea,” he said.
But Lorenzana said the naval operations of world powers in the South China Sea (SCS) does not necessarily mean they are implementing the ruling: “I have not heard the Americans say that their FONOPS (freedom of navigation operations) are done to enforce the PCA ruling. In truth, those countries have been conducting FONOPS long before the PCA ruling was promulgated and they will continue to do so with or without it in order to protect their own national interests by maintaining free and unimpeded passage for both their merchant and navy ships through the SCS.”
“Many people also need to understand that the PCA ruling was about ‘sovereign rights’ and not ‘sovereignty,’ which are two different things,” he said.
The Defense Secretary also maintained that the Philippines has never lost a territory in the West Philippine Sea under the current administration.
“The nine islands that were under our control before the Bajo de Masinloc (BDM) standoff are still occupied by Filipinos to this day. What the Chinese actually reclaimed are artificial structures which did not exist prior to the BDM incident. Furthernore, the PCA ruling declared BDM as a common ground where any country can fish,” he said.
The Duterte government is facing criticisms for not bringing up the arbitration ruling in 2016 that invalidated China’s nine-dash line claims, in exchange of economic investments from China. But Lorenzana said the President cannot be accused of “inaction.”
He said he believes that President Rodrigo Duterte would bring up the ruling later on: “The President has consistently said he is not setting aside the PCA ruling.”
“While the past and present administrations differ in their approaches in pursuing the same national interest, prudence dictates that diplomacy is still the better strategy to advance our country’s interests in the West Philippine Sea,” he said. /je/muf
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.