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PHL proceeds with case vs. China over West Philippine Sea

March 30, 2014 3:11pm
Defying China’s warnings, the Philippines on Sunday pressed ahead with the submission of a crucial arbitration document packed with evidence and legal arguments seeking to invalidate China’s massive claim over the South China Sea.

Ignoring a possible backlash from China, the Philippine government transmitted the document, called a “memorial” in international arbitration parlance, to the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration where a five-member tribunal operating under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will hear Manila’s complaint.

“Today, the Philippines submitted its memorial to the arbitral tribunal that is hearing the case it brought against the People’s Republic of China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told a news conference.

“With firm conviction, the ultimate purpose of our memorial is our national interest.”

Manila declined to release a copy of the memorial as it has yet to be reviewed by the court.

But Del Rosario said the document consists of “ten volumes with maps” with “nearly 4,000 pages” and will fortify the Philippine case, which seeks to declare China’s claim as illegal. A hard copy will be forwarded to the tribunal on Monday.

The document, he said, “contains the Philippine analysis of the applicable law and the relevant evidence, and demonstrates that the arbitral tribunal has jurisdiction over all the claims made by the Philippines.”

It will be used by the tribunal to determine if the Philippine case has legal merit under international law, and if the court has jurisdiction over it, Del Rosario said.

“Every claim is meritorious,” he said. “It sets out the specific relief sought by the Philippines in regard to each of its claims, and shows why it is entitled to such relief.”

“It is about seeking not just any kind of resolution but a just and durable solution grounded on international law,” he added.

Tensions in Ayungin shoal

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said the incidents in Ayungin Shoal were included in the Philippine case.

“The Philippines amended its statement of claim including Ayungin as part of the arbitration,” Jardeleza said.

Tensions over Ayungin Shoal—called Ren’ai Reef by China but internationally known as Second Thomas Shoal—intensified two weeks ago when Chinese coast guard ships blocked two Philippine civilian vessels which were sailing toward the disputed rocky outcrop.

Military officials reported another incident of harassment over the weekend in another attempt to transport supplies and fresh Filipino troops to a grounded Philippine Navy ship manned by more than a dozen Marines and sailors, which has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory.

Pressure from China

Under the arbitration procedure, the filing of a counter-memorial should be made by China, which has earlier declared that it will not join the proceedings.

Upon submission, the tribunal will decide on the next steps and advise the parties involved in the case on its next course of action.

Since the Philippines filed the case in January 2013, Beijing has attempted to pressure Manila into withdrawing from the legal process. China has also put diplomatic pressure on other claimant states not to support the Philippines.

China maintains historical and indisputable claim nearly over the entire sea and its features, even as it overlaps with the territorial jurisdiction of its neighbors like the Philippines.

Other claimants

Manila adopted the name West Philippine Sea for parts of the waters that are within its territorial boundaries.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan are also claimants to the South China Sea – a major trading route where undersea oil and gas deposits have been discovered.

China said it does not recognize the Philippine complaint and warned Manila that proceeding with the case would further damage their relations.

An expert said Manila’s filing of the memorial would step up pressure on China in defending its nine-dash line claim – a tongue-shaped encirclement that covers a huge swath of the South China Sea. 

“It will add moral pressure on China to make its claims to ‘historic rights’ and ‘indisputable sovereignty’ clearer in terms of international law,” Professor Carl Thayer of the Australian Defense Force Academy told GMA News Online.

The arbitral process could take up to a year or longer and during this period, China is expected to further reinforce its claims, said Thayer.

“China would have the opportunity to engage in more ‘salami slicing’ tactics to present a fait accompli on the sea when the Arbitral Tribunal announces its decision,” he said.

Manila filed a bold legal challenge against China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea last year and the tribunal gave the Philippines until March 30 to submit the memorial.

The Philippines argued that China’s claims did not conform with UNCLOS, and was therefore invalid on the basis of internationally accepted maritime laws.

China dismissed the Philippine complaint and decided not to get involved in the legal process, which contends that China illegally occupied at least eight South China Sea shoals, reefs and similar features within Manila’s territory.

The United States, European Union and many Asian governments have supported the Philippines' decision to seek a solution to the dispute through peaceful means "in accordance with international law" instead of military aggression.

A decision in favor of the Philippines would strengthen the rule of international law, Thayer said.

“Using international law may be the ‘weapon of the weak’ but the valiant attempt by the Philippines to employ legal means to create a stable regional order will be viewed positively by most regional states, including those in the Association of South East Asian Nations,” Thayer said.

UNCLOS has no provisions for enforcement, but a favorable ruling will be seen as a moral victory for the Philippines.   — JDS/YA, GMA News
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