CATHERINE S. VALENTE
The Manila Times
ILOILO CITY: Former solicitor general Francis Jardeleza believes the Philippines will lose if it takes China’s continued aggression in the West Philippine Sea before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). In an exclusive interview with The Manila Times, Jardeleza said a Philippine resolution is likely to be turned down since China, as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, has veto powers. “I have gone on record; I am against the Philippines taking the matter to the United Nations,” he said. “We have been there before when we filed the first arbitral case against China. That was an option available to us,” Jardeleza said, referencing the case the Philippines filed with the arbitral court in The Hague challenging Beijing’s expansive claim in the South China Sea. But the case did not prosper in the UN, he said. Last month, the Senate adopted a measure condemning China’s harassment in the West Philippine Sea and urging the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file a resolution before the General Assembly to end Beijing’s aggression. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was cool on the Senate’s proposal, insisting that “foreign policy is not set by the legislature.” The President will not attend the General Assembly meeting in New York from September 18 to 26, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo will stand in for him. Jardeleza said the President was right to skip the UN meeting. “We don’t court disaster by going to a forum where we don’t even know we will win,” he said. “I believe that a Cabinet member has already made a headcount, and I think the best count is 22 countries [supporting the Philippines]. Now if we just get 22, matatalo tayo (we will lose). That’s going to be catastrophic. Just imagine, we bring the matter to the United Nations and then during a vote, we lose,” he said. He said he expects the 55-country African bloc to side with China, explaining that Africa is at the core of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, its strategy for global infrastructure development. He said the 2016 Philippine victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which rejected China’s claim, provides enough legal ground to stand on. “I agree with the President. Don’t court disaster by going to a forum where we don’t even know we will win. I know there are some people who opine that we cannot lose in the United Nations, but that’s not for them to say.” Jardeleza, who was part of the team that filed the arbitration case in 2013, said there are other ways to address China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea without bringing it before the UN. He also rejected the 2023 version of the map of China, which features a new 10-dash line that defines its boundaries in the South China Sea. “My comment on the 10-dash line is that I have the same advocacy that we just file a new case over specific items like… this recent swarming in the Iroquois Reef within our 200 miles because the decision already says that China cannot do it,” Jardeleza said. He said he will not contest the 10dash line “because we already won that the nine-dash line [is invalid].” Jardeleza said the Philippines could file another case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration and seek payment for damages caused by China’s aggressive acts in the West Philippine Sea. He cited the China Coast Guard’s use of a water cannon on the Philippine Coast Guard and its increased swarming activity as the main focus of the new case. “Now if China again wishes not to participate, we have proven that we can hale them to the tribunal as we have done in the past. I am arguing that a new case can be filed this time; unlike the previous arbitral award or arbitral case that we filed, this time we specify the amount of damages that we suffered,” he said. “The more important part is the so-called exemplary damage that this can run into. First, before we can have exemplary damages, we must prove actual damages. Now you add the exemplary damages, I think it can be done in a case,” he said.