V Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law 235-65 (April 2018)
On May 10, 2016, populist candidate Rodrigo Duterte, largely seen as
an outsider to national politics in the Philippines, was elected its new-
est president by a wide margin.1 His campaign was lled with more
outrageous statements than policy details, but he did make clear that,
if elected, he would change the South China Sea policy of the Phil-
ippines.2 Duterte famously stated that he would “shut up” about the
South China Sea if China would help build railways in the Philippines.3
Aer his inauguration, instead of confronting China like his predeces-
sor President Benigno Aquino III, Duterte sought reconciliation with
China as a better way to address South China Sea tensions. e famous
Filipino proverb “Bagong hari, bagong ugali,” which is, “new king, new
character,” when translated, encapsulates the fundamental shi in poli-
cy that occurred with Duterte’s election to the presidency.
e South China Sea is an area of tremendous strategic importance
in East Asia and for other parts of the world. is vast body of water
encompasses 3.5 million square kilometers and facilitates approximately
$5.3 trillion in international trade annually. In addition to being a
crossroads for international trade, the water way is one of the most
important sheries in the world, rich in biodiversity and providing
food and jobs to millions. Beneath the waters of the sea lies potentially
1. Duterte was elected largely on his promises to clean up crime and corruption
in the Philippines, aer having accomplished these goals as mayor of the noto-
riously lawless Davao City. See James Gabrillo, Power of the people: how Rodrigo
Duterte became the next president of the Philippines, T N, May 17,
visited Apr. 2, 2018). See also Richard Javad Heydarian, Philippines post-election
analysis; How Duterte shot to the top, A T, May 13, 2016, http://www.
the-top/ (last visited Apr. 2, 2018).
2. Renato Cruz de Castro, Geopolitical Constraints on Duterte’s South China Sea
Policy, A M T I, Jun. 30, 2016, https://amti.
csis.org/geopolitical-constraints-dutertes-south-china-sea-policy/ (last visited
Apr. 2, 2018).
3. ABS-CBN N, Duterte Willing to Back Down on Sea Dispute with China,
Oct. 7, 2016, http://news.abs-cbn.com/halalan2016/nation/04/11/16/duterte-
willing-to-back-down-on-sea-dispute-with-china (last visited Apr. 28, 2017).