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Palace rejects bilateral talks with China, to pursue arbitration case


(Updated 3:02 p.m.) Malacañang on Wednesday rejected the call of the Chinese government for bilateral negotiations in connection with the alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen at the disputed Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal by Chinese authorities.

Instead, the Philippines will pursue the arbitration case it filed before the United Nations (UN), according to deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Wednesday.

During a press conference, Valte said the government is already preparing the Memorial—or written pleading—for submission. The memorial will be the country's formal statement regarding China’s claim of sovereignty over territories in the South China Sea.

“So essentially, the Memorial is already being prepared. While I can tell you generally that it will contain the position of government when it comes to this, I cannot delve into specifics," she said, adding the Philippines has already made "a solid case before the international community."

"Our case is based on the rule of law. Our claims are based on international law and... our approach has also been lauded... by most of the members of the international community as far as the path of arbitration that we have chosen to take," Valte said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario had earlier said the Philippines will submit its memorial by March 30, a deadline which Valte said they are ready to meet.

"Everything to bolster the government's case, of course, will be contained in the Memorial," she said.

Harassment

The Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has filed a diplomatic protest against China over several cases of harassment of Filipino fishermen, including last month’s water cannon attack, in Manila-claimed Panatag Shoal off the South China Sea.

President Benigno Aquino III has also asked Beijing to explain their intentions and what the incident was all about.

But China rejected Manila’s protest, insisting it has “indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters” including Panatag Shoal.

It also urged the Philippines "to work with the Chinese side to resolve differences through bilateral consultations and negotiations.”

Raising tension

Valte said there was "nothing new" in Beijing's claim.

"Essentially that it was a reiteration of the concept of the nine-dash line over the West Philippine Sea as well as the adjacent waters. So it was nothing new," she said.

Although admitting China's recent actions "indeed raises tensions," she said "the guidance has always been not to respond to provocative acts."

"The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces has said these much that we have selected the path of peace, the path of arbitration, and we will stick to that as we have done in the past few years," Valte said.

No info on China offer

The Palace official, meanwhile, said she has no information regarding reports that China is offering incentives to the Philippines in exchange for the non-submission of the Memorial.

The Philippines sought arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) January last year to try to declare as “illegal” China’s nine-dash claim, which covers almost all of the South China Sea, including sections that have been declared as the West Philippine Sea.

China has resisted Manila’s move to let a UN body intervene in the disputes, saying the Philippines’ case was legally infirm and carried unacceptable allegations.

Del Rosario said arbitration is the Philippines’ “last resort” to resolve its long-standing territorial dispute with China after political and diplomatic solutions have failed.  — KBK, GMA News
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