COVER STORY

Remembering the 2016 Hague ruling: What has happened since then?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 12) — It has been five years since an international tribunal in The Hague unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines in a historic case against China over the South China Sea dispute.

The five-member arbitral tribunal released a 479-page decision which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims over virtually the entire South China Sea and recognized Manila’s sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone that China contests.

READ: What you need to know about the arbitral tribunal's ruling

Five years on, China continues to disregard the ruling — one it labeled as “illegal and invalid” — even as the Philippines maintained the award is final.

In 2021 alone, hundreds of the East Asian giant’s vessels were spotted scattered around the West Philippine Sea — a portion of the South China Sea that includes the Philippines' claimed areas and exclusive economic zone — despite repeated calls from the government for the withdrawal of the ships. Filipino fisherfolk bared challenges in bringing home catch due to the presence of foreign vessels in their regular fishing grounds.

RELATED: 5 years since PH won South China Sea arbitration, fishermen continue to fight for survival

As the country commemorates the landmark ruling's anniversary, CNN Philippines takes a look back at the momentous case victory and the events that transpired since then.

January 22, 2013

The Philippines notified China of its intent to challenge Beijing’s nine-dash claim. The note verbale containing the Notification and Statement of Claim was handed to then Chinese envoy H.E. Ma Keqing.

China earlier staked its claim to the waters through its so-called nine-dash line, which encompasses about 85% of the South China Sea, including 80% of the Philippines’ EEZ in the West Philippine Sea.

February 19, 2013

The Chinese government rejected and returned the note verbale, reiterating that it will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration.

December 7, 2014

In a position paper, China refuted the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction over the maritime dispute. It stresed that it won’t participate in the case proceedings.

July 8, 2015

The first round of oral arguments started at the Hague. The Philippines argued that the court, created under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, has jurisdiction — and should intervene — in the maritime row.

October 29, 2015

The tribunal unanimously ruled that it has jurisdiction on majority of the points raised by the Philippines.

READ: The Hague arguments: Philippine case against China explained

July 12, 2016

After three and a half years, the bench finally released its ruling on the Philippines’ case against China. The judges ruled there was no legal basis for Beijing to claim "historic rights" to resources in areas under its nine-dash line.

The tribunal also found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its EEZ by interfering with fishing and petroleum exploration, constructing artificial islands, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.

It also said that China’s land reclamations caused harm to the marine environment in the South China Sea.

Beijing rejected the tribunal’s ruling.

December 29, 2016

In an interview with CNN Philippines, newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte vowed the government would take action should China move to mine resources in parts of the South China Sea where the country has economic rights.

"[I will bring up the ruling] during my time. I cannot let it pass na balewala na lang (like it was nothing)," Duterte said at the time.

March 2017

Quoting Sansha City Mayor Xiao Jie, news organization Reuters reported that China plans to build environmental monitoring stations on a number of islands, including the Scarborough Shoal. Sansha is a city established by China in July 2012, headquartered on disputed Woody Island in the South China Sea.

Duterte said the Philippines cannot stop Beijing’s reported plan to build structures on the shoal, noting that going to war against the global superpower may be a losing battle for the country. The chief executive, however, said he would confront China if it tries to take resources from Philippine territory.

April 2017

During a visit to a Palawan military camp, Duterte said he ordered the personnel of the Armed Forces to “occupy” all Philippines-claimed islands in the South China Sea.

“We tried to be friends with everybody but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control,” the President said.

May 2017

The Philippines began sending military troops and supplies to reinforce and upgrade facilities on Pag-asa Island, internationally known as Thitu, one of the biggest islands in the disputed Spratlys.

August 2017

The Magdalo party list group released photographs showing the alleged presence of Chinese vessels in Pag-asa. Then-Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said his sources "inside the military" reported that Beijing deployed frigates, a coast guard vessel, and large fishing vessels along with militia around the island. The Foreign Affairs Department said the agency would be verifying the information.

November 2017

Before departing for Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, Duterte told reporters he would raise the South China Sea issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the summit and agreed to pursue diplomacy and cooperation amid the maritime row.

RELATED: Duterte: South China Sea issue 'better left untouched'

January 2018

The government granted China's request to conduct maritime research in the resource-rich Benham Rise or Philippine Rise. Then-Senior Associate Justice Carpio— part of the Philippine delegation to the Hague — called this a “dumb” move, saying China should not be allowed to enjoy rights under UNCLOS while it refuses to accept its obligation under the arbitral award.

RELATED: UP maritime expert disputes Palace claim Filipinos can't afford Benham Rise research

February 2018

Duterte said he will order the Philippine Navy to fire at those who try to exploit the Benham Rise. The following month, he also warned he will wage a war against those who will explore and experiment in the area without permit.

April 2018

The President said he offered a “60-40” sharing deal with China on joint oil and gas exploration in the disputed South China Sea.

November 2018

The Philippines and China signed a memorandum of understanding creating the framework for future talks on the joint exploration. Critics warned it could compromise Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights.

January 2019

Chinese news outfit Xinhua reported that Beijing established a "maritime rescue center" in the West Philippine Sea.

Then-Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the country should perhaps be thankful for the move as it can help distressed seamen, but maritime law expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal described it as China’s attempt to mask its militarization of the area “by highlighting possible civilian benefits or public goods provided by their artificial islands.”

April 2019

The military confirmed hundreds of Chinese vessels swarmed the vicinity of Pag-asa island in January to March 2019.

Their presence was met with heavy protests from the Duterte government, which demanded that the Chinese vessels leave Philippine waters. The DFA also filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing.

Duterte said he would ask his soldiers to "prepare for suicide mission" if China does not heed his warning to lay off the island, but he also stressed he’d rather go into a compromise instead of war.

June 2019

A Chinese vessel hit the anchored Filipino boat F/B Gem-Ver near Recto Bank, an underwater feature claimed by both Manila and Beijing. This left 22 Filipino fishermen floating at sea for nearly three hours before Vietnamese fishers rescued them.

There is no need for war or even a "convoluted argument" with China, Duterte said, as he called the occurence a “little maritime incident.” The captain of the sunken ship, however, maintained their boat was intentionally rammed. In August of the same year, Duterte called on China to sanction the crew of the Chinese vessel.

The Department of Justice later said the local fishermen are due civil damages worth over ₱12 million.

July 2019

Duterte vowed to stop China from fishing in the country’s EEZ in the West Philippine Sea within his term.

Before the month ended, the Philippines also lodged another diplomatic protest against Beijing as more than a hundred Chinese vessels were once again spotted around Pag-asa island.

September 2019

Duterte said the government will ignore the Philippines' arbitral victory to make way for joint oil and gas exploration with Beijing.

He said Chinese President Xi had promised to give the Philippines the bigger chunk – 60 percent – of the revenues from the planned joint exploration. In exchange, China wants the Philippines to "set aside the arbitral ruling."

February 2020

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed Chinese ships have once again been present near Pag-asa Island.

April 2020

The country filed a diplomatic protest anew after China declared parts of Philippine territory to be under its Hainan province. It also protested Beijing’s alleged pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in Philippine waters.

July 2020

On the fourth anniversary of the arbitral victory, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. reaffirmed the Philippines’ commitment to the award, saying it is “non-negotiable.” China, on the other hand, continued to reject the tribunal's decision, calling it "illegal and invalid."

In his fifth State of the Nation Address, Duterte said he cannot go to war against Beijing over the sea row, noting the Philippines does not have the resources to take on China. Critics have repeatedly said, however, that standing up for the nation’s right doesn’t automatically mean asking for war with the region's giant.

September 2020

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom issued a joint note verbale to the UN recognizing the Hague ruling favoring the Philippines.

A few days later, Duterte affirmed this 2016 victory when he appeared in the UN General Assembly. But while this pronouncement earned praise, his spokesperson Harry Roque later clarified the ruling will remain on the shelf consistent with government policy.

October 2020

Duterte approved the lifting of the moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea, paving the way for the resumption of drilling activities in the waters and the planned joint exploration with China.

His predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III, issued the moratorium in 2012 amid rising tensions between the two countries.

March 2021

Over 200 Chinese ships suspected to be maritime militia were spotted at the Julian Felipe reef, also known as Whitsun reef, which is well within the Philippines’ EEZ. A day after this was reported to the media, Locsin filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing.

China claimed the ships were not militia but fishing vessels taking shelter from bad weather. The DFA said these are "blatant falsehoods."

Calling the ships’ presence a “clear provocative action of militarizing the area," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also demanded that they withdraw from Philippine waters. Later, Malacañang said Duterte and Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian discussed the issue, where the President raised Manila's arbitral win.

By month-end, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said some 44 Chinese vessels are still at the reef while more than 200 others have moved to different areas in the West Philippine Sea.

April 2021

The DFA warned a diplomatic protest will be lodged for each day the Chinese vessels refuse to leave the West Philippine Sea. It also summoned Chinese envoy Huang over the matter.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines later launched a probe into the reported harassment of ABS-CBN television crew members who were onboard a Filipino civilian vessel when reportedly chased down by two missile attack craft of the Chinese Navy even as they were well within the Philippines’ EEZ.

In the same month, the European Union said the lingering presence of the ships in Philippine territory “endangers peace and stability in the region.” It urged all parties to resolve disputes through peaceful means as it also cited the 2016 arbitration award.

But repeating his narrative of war, Duterte in his address to the nation said the only way the Philippines can reclaim its areas being occupied by China is through a bloody battle which it cannot win.

Still, he said he would deploy navy ships to the area if Beijing conducts oil drills inside the EEZ. In a separate public address, he also said that while the country owes China a debt of gratitude, he can’t compromise on the sea issue.

RELATED: Del Rosario to Duterte: Standing up for nation's rights is not war vs. China

May 2021

Duterte said he never promised to retake the West Philippine Sea from China when he sought the country’s top post in 2016. This is contrary to his controversial remark during the campaign period, where he said he would ride a jet ski to plant a Philippine flag on man-made islands occupied by China.

He later said the jet ski promise was a “pure campaign joke.”

In a widely denounced statement, the President also called the arbitral win against China a mere scrap of paper that he can throw away in a trash bin.

June 2021

In a special assembly of foreign ministers, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China vowed to avoid activities that could escalate tension in the South China Sea.