China may have warships but we have Hilbay

Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay during the launch of #TindigPilipinas on September 18, 2017. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

I met this brilliant, vibrant, cheerful and easy-going Senatorial aspirant and former Solicitor General of the Republic Philippines during the Quo Vadis forum held in USJR Cebu auditorium back in 2018. I remembered how he spoke in such manner of certainty and confidence about the current issues in the West Philippine Sea and why we should continue to assert our legal claim over it and prevent China from imposing a complete military blockade that will threaten the freedom of navigation on this vital merchant sea route.

Most people would say – who is Hilbay? What does he do? He isn’t like Pacquiao? Nor was he like Sotto? Villar? Binay? or many of the political big names which entrenched itself in the political sphere for several years. Of course, most of these people has their own share of achievements and brilliant contribution to the country but we couldn’t just discount what Hilbay did simply because he is not as popular as these guys are.

Florin Hilbay led the legal team which won us the much coveted PCA ruling that awarded the WPS to the Philippines — it took years of constant efforts and tactical determination. It would not have been possible without the brilliance of one of the Philippine’s topnotched lawyers. Hilbay himself.

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For those who don’t know who is Florin Hilbay. I might as well want to share with you this video below which I created for him. As you know he was one of the aspiring Senatoriables for the upcoming 2019 election. He doesn’t have the well-oiled political and financial machinery as the other candidates are but he has with him the undeterred determination to make things right and save our country to its ruin.


So what happened then? How did we win the PCA ruling? What was the ruling? Does this mean we do have sovereignty over the WPS and not China?

Last January 2013, we filed a formal case against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

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This is despite China’s repetitive rhetoric of challenging Philippine officials on a bilateral negotiations rather than going to an impartial International legal body to rule over this claim. Many experts sees such move to be very important since engaging with bilateral talks with China has not been so promising. Despite the peace negotiations offered by Senator Trillanes in his trip to China. The Chinese ships continued their harassment and illegal fishing in Scarborough despite the short-term mutual agreement of not venturing each other’s ships within the shoal.

China may have warships. But we have Hilbay!

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Hilbay being a topnotcher of the 1999 Bar Exams (dubbed as having the lowest passing rate of all of Philippine’s bar exam history) has been well prepared and geared  up for it. In fact, he applies the same diligence and nonchalance when he tackled on the arbitration case filed over the Hague.

The main thrust of the arbitration case was to debunk China’s nine-dashed claim which appears to supersedes with other claimants in the South China Sea and overlaps the conditions set and established by UNCLOS. Which ironically enough, China is also one of it’s signatories.


Hilbay’s team — the knockout blow

Last March 2014. We filed 4,000-page memorial against China’s nine-dashed claim to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It appears that Volume I, which is 270 pages long, analyzes laws and evidence in relation to the case. It also shows that the arbitral tribunal “has jurisdiction” over the case – a major question that the Philippines needs to address. It proves the merits of the Philippines’ every claim.

The memorial comes with “all documentary, witness, expert, and other evidence” that the Philippines intends to rely on, according to the Rules of Procedure set by the designated arbitral tribunal supported by the United Nations.

It also has as attachments the “legal authorities (such as treaties, laws, decrees, or judicial decisions) cited in their submissions.”

Our 1987 Constitution mandates: “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its xxx exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.” This is the mandate of the Constitution that we have all solemnly sworn to uphold.

To fulfill the State’s obligation to protect the nation’s marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the Philippines has filed an arbitration case against China in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). At stake in the arbitration before an UNCLOS Annex VII tribunal is whether the Philippines will keep or lose 80% of its exclusive economic zone and 100% of its extended continental shelf in the West Philippines Sea.

And on July 2015. The Permanent Court of Arbitration hears the case and during this time. China’s strongest arguments are still considered by the court.

 Photo courtesy of the Permanent Court of Arbitration


Then later in October 29 2015. The PCA rejects China’s strongest argument against the Philippines: that the tribunal has no right to hear the Philippines’ case over the West Philippine Sea. A huge blow on China’s efforts to delay and hopefully destroy the arbitration case in their own favor.

Note that behind all of this. We have the brilliant top government lawyer – Florin Hilbay. Working dilegently as he and the other high-caliber lawyers strenuously argues before the international court regarding the Philippines stance on China’s nine-dash claim.

TOP GOVERNMENT LAWYER. Philippine Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, who serves as agent for his country, delivers a statement. Photo courtesy of PCA

TEAM OF EXPERTS. The counsel team for the Philippines, including Professor Bernard Oxman, Professor Alan Boyle, and Mr Lawrence Martin, in the closed-door hearings. Photo courtesy of PCA


And then months later the tribunal conducts a hearing on the merits of the Philippines’ case. The tribunal gives the Philippines and China until December 9, 2015, “to review and submit corrections to the transcript of the hearing.”

For clarification’s sake. The Philippines’ arbitration case against China is solely a maritime dispute and does not involve any territorial dispute. The Philippines is asking the tribunal if China’s 9-dashed lines can negate the Philippines’ EEZ as guaranteed under UNCLOS. The Philippines is also asking the tribunal if certain rocks above water at high tide, like Scarborough Shoal, generate a 200 NM EEZ or only a 12 NM territorial sea. The Philippines is further asking the tribunal if China can appropriate low-tide elevations (LTEs), like Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, within the Philippines’ EEZ. These disputes involve the interpretation or application of the provisions of UNCLOS.

The stakes are high for the Philippines in it’s bid to debunk China’s nine-dashed claim but should the Philippines succeed. Then so does this embolden’s other claimants in the region to pursue the same.

Did you know? That the  Philippines is the first country of all claimants in the South China Sea who brought China to court and won?

And then on July 2016. Just barely a month before Duterte took the helm. The Permanent Arbitration Court released its ruling and awarded the West Philippine Sea 200NM within our Exclusive Economic Zone also at the same time debunked China’s nine-dashed claim. Of course — such victory would have been largely unexpected knowing full well that China has more connections and resources in pushing back this claim. But still the brilliance and hardwork of the Philippine lawyers and experts who handled the case prevailed above all else.

And of course — ours truly. Florin Hilbay.

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