Philippines' legal fees in China case still unpaid

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines' legal fees in its historic case against China remain unpaid two years after the Southeast Asian country won in The Hague, the country's current and former foreign secretaries confirmed.

In a Rappler Talk interview with Marites Dañguilan Vitug on Monday, July 16, former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said that "the incremental payment" for the case "had not been paid."

Del Rosario said the amount due is "less than a million dollars."

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also disclosed in a congressional hearing on May 30 that the Philippines has not completely paid its legal fees.

The Philippines' lead counsel in the case, Paul Reichler, is a partner at the US-based legal firm FoleyHoag. He also chairs the firm's international litigation and arbitration department.

Even before taking up the Philippines' case, Reichler has been hailed as "the giant slayer of public international law."

Reichler, for one, is known for winning high-profile international cases, among them, the landmark case wherein Nicaragua sued the US for funding rebels against a left-wing government. Nicaragua, which Reichler represented, defeated the US in June 1986.

Thirty years after handling the Nicaragua case, Reichler won an overwhelming victory for the Philippines in its case against China over the South China Sea.

Sought by Rappler for comment, Reichler on Wednesday, July 18, declined to confirm or deny the statements made by Cayetano and Del Rosario on the Philippines' unpaid bills, saying it is the policy of FoleyHoag not to publicly discuss its clients' legal fees.

Who's to blame?

While Cayetano and Del Rosario both said the Philippines' fees remain unpaid, the two personalities differed on who to blame.

For Cayetano, it was the Aquino administration's fault that the Philippines has yet to pay the legal fees.

Citing Reichler, Cayetano told the House of Representatives, "May problema pa tayo dahil hindi binayaran noong past administration iyong sinisingil niya, so baka idemanda tayo, but we're trying to handle it."

(We still have a problem because the past administration did not pay what he was charging, so they might sue us, but we're trying to handle it.)

It was the other day around for Del Rosario. He said the Duterte administration promised in 2016 to pay these legal fees, but has not.

Del Rosario said: "I think we were talking about the incremental payment that had not been paid and which was due up to this particular time. The amount was not so big. It's less than a million dollars." 

Del Rosario said Solicitor General Jose Calida was "very pleased about the outcome" of the Philippines-China case in 2016. 

"He was saying that because of this victory, we can rest assured that the incremental payment would be made immediately. Up to now, I understand, it has not been paid," Del Rosario said.

Vitug, who is set to launch a landmark book on the Hague ruling, asked Del Rosario what the Philippines' lawyers said they would do.

Del Rosario answered, "I think they were talking about filing a legal case about the Philippines, but in the end, I think they thought better of it and, at the end of the day, they are still trying to collect and I hope we can finally pay them incrementally."

Rappler is still trying to reach Calida for comment as of posting time.

'Long-established policy'

Sought for confirmation, Reichler said that "it is FoleyHoag's long-established policy not to discuss its fee arrangements with clients publicly."

"Clients, especially if they are States, are free to disclose these matters, if they so desire. But our policy is not to comment publicly on our fee agreements with them, or the status of their payments​ to us, or their balances with us," Reichler said.

"The only exceptions are when, as a last resort, we have had to initiate legal action to collect unpaid fees. I can recall only two such occasions when we did so in my 45 years of legal practice. The last one was more than 10 years ago," the international lawyer added. 

Reichler represented the Philippines at The Hague alongside his FoleyHoag colleagues, Lawrence Martin and Andrew Loewenstein.

On July 12, the Philippines marked the second anniversary of the Hague ruling, which President Rodrigo Duterte refuses to enforce for fear of agitating Beijing.  

Del Rosario recalled when the Philippines won the case on July 12, 2016, he and other West Philippine Sea stalwarts "were very happy and elated."

"I thought that all Filipinos should be delighted with this victory. We found out surprisingly that the government was unhappy. We couldn't understand why until we learned that they were apprehensive about displeasing China," Del Rosario said.

It came to a point that the US, Australia, and Japan had to issue a statement reminding the Philippines to abide by the very ruling it won. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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