VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Marcos falsely claims Philippines sued China in the ICC

Former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. wrongly claimed that the Philippines filed a complaint in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against China for its incursions into the West Philippine Sea.


In a press conference on Sept. 24, Marcos was asked how the maritime territorial dispute in the South China Sea between the two countries can be solved. The former senator, the only son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, said going to war is not a choice and that the "only option left" for the Philippines is to engage diplomatically with China, but also in terms of economic, social, cultural, and sports aspects. He explained:

Sa palagay ko kasi ang dati nating usapan sa China tungkol nga sa West Philippine Sea ay sa bilateral exchange. Lagi tayong nakikipag-usap sa China. ‘Pag may problema tayo lagi nating dinadala sa kanila, and the other way around. Iyon ang ating naging sistema noon hanggang 2010 na kinasuhan, nag-file tayo ng kaso sa ICC. Nagka-harden … both parties hardened their positions ... Kaya tayo napunta sa gan’tong sitwasyon.

(I think our former arrangement with China regarding the West Philippine Sea was through a bilateral exchange. We always talked with China. We bring our concerns there, and the other way around. That was the old system until 2010 when we filed a case in the ICC. Both parties hardened their positions … That’s why we are in this situation.)

He continued:

Dahil ang pagsolusyon sa mga territorial conflict --- halimbawa, may territorial claim ang dalawang bansa -- naaayos lang iyan sa ICC. Pero kailangang sumang-ayon ang parehong bansa magsasabi … Pero ang China hindi man signatory sa pag-ano, sa pagtaguyod ng ICC. Pangalawa, sinabi na nila mula sa umpisa na hindi namin susundan. Hindi namin kinikilala iyong mga decision sa ICC. So wala na sa atin iyon.

(In resolving territorial conflicts -- for example, territorial claims between two countries -- it can only be solved in the ICC. But both countries need to agree … But China is not a signatory in the ICC. Second, it has said in the first place that it will not follow the decision. It does not recognize the decision of the ICC. So that does not concern us anymore.)

Source: Friday News Forum via, Bongbong Marcos discusses plans for 2022 elections, Sept. 24, 2021, watch from 24:08 to 26:35

The Philippines sued China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), not in the ICC, regarding the West Philippine Sea dispute. The ICC is a judicial body that does not arbitrate territorial disputes between states.

In January 2013, not 2010 as Marcos claimed, the Philippines, under the administration of Benigno Aquino III, initiated the arbitration proceedings by filing a complaint in the PCA.

Both the PCA and the ICC are intergovernmental organizations based in The Hague, Netherlands. The PCA was established in 1899 to facilitate arbitration and conciliation, among its other functions, of overlapping claims between states. It served as a registry for the five-member arbitral tribunal formed to handle the maritime territorial dispute between the Philippines and China. The tribunal, which facilitated the arbitration for three years, was instituted pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which both the Philippines and China are signatories.

On the other hand, the ICC does not facilitate arbitration to resolve territorial disputes and maritime claims between states. The court was established to investigate and put on trial individuals “charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community like genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.”

(See The ICC and the Filipino (Part 1) - Vera Files and The ICC and the Filipino (Part 2) - Vera Files)

Neither China nor the Philippines is a state party to the ICC. The Philippines used to be a state party to the ICC, but President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the court, in 2018. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: PHL's notice of withdrawal from ICC is the latest in a string of inconsistent Palace responses to war on drugs probe - Vera Files)

In July 2016, barely 12 days after Duterte assumed the presidency, the tribunal completed its three-year arbitration proceedings and released the final and binding decision in favor of the Philippines’ position that Beijing’s nine-dash line claim of ownership of almost the entire South China Sea “has no legal basis,” among other findings.

But China has since refused to recognize the arbitral ruling, repeatedly dismissing it as just a “piece of waste paper.

However, the tribunal affirmed in its decision that China is bound to comply with its decisions as a signatory to the UNCLOS since June 1996. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: PH didn't 'handpick' entire panel in South China Sea arbitration case - Vera Files)


Friday News Forum via, Bongbong Marcos discusses plans for 2022 elections, Sept. 24, 2021

Permanent Court of Arbitration, About us

International Criminal Court, Rome Statute, Accessed Sept. 24, 2021

International Criminal Court, About the ICC, Accessed Sept., 24, 2021

Chinese Foreign Ministry, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin at the Press Conference on the White Paper Titled China Adheres to the Position of Settling Through Negotiation the Relevant Disputes Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea, July 13, 2016

Chinese Foreign Ministry, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian's Regular Press Conference on July 12, 2021, July 12, 2021

United Nations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Accessed Sept. 24, 2021

United Nations, Status of the UNCLOS, Accessed Sept. 24, 2021

Permanent Court of Arbitration, Award on the South China Sea Arbitration, July 12, 2016

(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

Have you seen any dubious claims, photos, memes, or online posts that you want us to verify? Send us a message here or here.


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Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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