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SolGen: Ruling on West PHL Sea claim may be out by 2015


The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which the Philippines has asked to resolve a territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, may release its final ruling on the case next year, the chief state lawyer disclosed on Thursday.
 
"The decision on the case may be rendered in the next two years, probably, by the end of 2015," Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said at a roundtable discussion on the arbitration over the West Philippine Sea at the University of the Philippines College of Law.
 
"The Philippines is very confident that we can convince the court. We feel that we have strong and just legal claims," he said.
 
However the ITLOS rules on the case, its decision is final and can no longer be appealed. 
 
The Philippines early last year sought arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on its assertion that China's nine-dash line claim was illegal. The nine-dash line covers about 80 percent of the South China Sea, including sections that Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.
 
The Philippines claims that Panatag Shoal, also referred to as Scarborough Shoal, is within its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from its coast.
 
Jardeleza pointed out that Panatag Shoal, also called Bajo de Masincloc, is less than 200 nautical miles from Zambales, while China's Hainan Island is about 600 nautical miles away. 
 
The South China Sea is believed to have resource-rich waters and is an important maritime route. Apart from China and the Philippines, Taiwan, as well as three members of the Association of South East Asian Nations – Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia - have claims over the disputed seas.
 
The tribunal is composed of six judges: Rudiger Wolfrum from Germany, Stanislaw Pawlak from Poland, Jean-Pierre Lot from France, Afred Soons from the Netherlands, and Thomas Mensah from Ghana. 
 
Jardeleza is the country's chief state lawyer and works with the country's legal counsel on the case,  Paul Reichler of international law firm Foley and Hoag.
 
The Philippines is set to submit a memorial, or its formal statement against China's claim of sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, on March 30.
 
China opted out of the arbitration, but this will not bar the tribunal from proceeding. Beijing's decision not to participate in the arbitration actually shortens the procedure, Jardeleza said. 
 
There are currently no Philippine vessels in Panatag Shoal, Command Armando Balilo of the Philippine Coast Guard told GMA News at the sidelines of the forum.
 
Water cannon attack
 
"Where do you run when you are bullied? What can a small country do? The government felt that the only way to go is to go to arbitration and thresh out this issue to the tribunal," Jardeleza said.
 
"This is the proper and only way to settle their (Philippines' and China's) differences," he added. 
 
Jardeleza said the Chinese coast guards' recent use of water cannon to drive away Filipino fishermen may be cited as an incident of harassment.

"There will be a chapter in the memorial that will outline or narrate the acts of harassment with documentary evidence," he said. 
 
Losing not an option
 
The Philippines has asked the tribunal to decide on whether it has jurisdiction over the dispute as well as the merits of the case at the same time.
 
"The tribunal will decide on both matters together… This is a tactical advantage [for the Philippines]. As we discuss the merits of the case more and more, we may convince the tribunal to take the case," Jardeleza said.
 
The ITLOS ruling, in essence, will state which country has jurisdiction over the disputed waters under UNCLOS.
 
Jardeleza said that if the Philippines wins the case and China refuses to heed the ruling, Beijing will have "to face the wrath of the international community."
 
"Losing is not an option," Jadeleza said. "We are a small country but we want to win big. Time and history [are] on our side." — JDS, GMA News
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