THIS deserves some fist raising, preferably with the left hand.

The United Nation's (UN) Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague in the Netherlands has ruled that there is no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to areas within its so-called “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea. Thus, China violated the Philippines' sovereign rights to a part of the South China Sea that the latter calls the West Philippine Sea. The nine-dash line extends hundreds of miles from China's smallest and southernmost province of Hainan.

Actually, the ruling by the arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was expected partly because China refused to participate in the proceedings. And the ruling won't affect the balance of power in South China Sea because even if China and the Philippines are signatories of UNCLOS, the Permanent Court of Arbitration does not have the power to enforce it. But the ruling is a boost to this country's claim to West Philippine Sea areas.

The official Xinhua news agency said China “won't accept nor acknowledge the ruling,” which was expected. Meanwhile, Malacañang in a report, said that it “strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing disputes in the South China Sea.”

Since the ruling came barely two weeks after the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte took over Malacañang, the ones that welcomed it most were the officials of the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III that filed the case with the Arbitral Tribunal in 2013. There were, for example, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, the Philippines' agent in the arbitration proceedings.

The strategy of the Aquino administration in the country's dispute with China on jurisdiction over areas in the West Philippine Sea became clear after it suffered setbacks when the Chinese, using its military might, asserted control over the disputed territories. Lacking the muscle to assert its claim, the Philippines went to the arbitration tribunal and refused to be baited into bilateral talks with China, then it strengthened ties with the United States.

Much of that is expected to change under the Duterte administration. While he still has to lay down a clear cut strategy on the South China Sea dispute, the President's recent pronouncements are signals he is prepared to go in a direction different from what Aquino took. The military modernization program started by Aquino aimed at providing the country with a credible response to the China threat has been scuttled in favor of focusing on internal threats.

Last month, Duterte made it clear that the Philippines “won't go to war over the Scarborough Shoal” in the West Philippine Sea. And he seemed ready to get the country out of the US embrace and warmed up to Chinese officials more than to the Americans. How he would use the Arbitral Tribunal's favorable ruling in a possible opening of bilateral talks with China remains to be seen. Will the US, which is currently shifting its focus on the Pacific, be the odd man out in this setup?

I say the ruling is like a ball thrown into the hands of the Duterte administration. I hope it would study well what to do with that ball. It took the Philippines more than three years, tons of documents and a lot of verbal arguments, not to mention the millions (or is it billions?) of pesos spent to get the ruling. The Duterte administration should therefore make the most of the favorable decision and not waste it by being servile to China, no matter how powerful it is economically and militarily.

( twitter: @khanwens)