Manila hopeful for UN tribunal backing on claims
MANILA (PhlDigest)- Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has warned of an arms race in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea in case a United Nations (UN) arbitral tribunal tackling the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China makes an unfavorable decision for Manila.
Carpio, an expert on the matter, made the warning as he briefed members of the Senate on the disputed sea and the Philippines’ case before a UN tribunal.
The Philippines, meanwhile, has re-activated its military base in Subic Bay and preparing a military base with the United States in Palawan both facing the disputed Philippine and China waters amidst pronouncements by US President Barack Obama and lately US Secretary of State John Kerry that US will support the Philippines in the disputed region.
This as Malacañang remains hopeful for a favorable ruling from the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague.
“We are confident that the delegation will be able to thoroughly answer additional questions from the Tribunal and convey the full merit of our arguments. We continue to hope for a favorable ruling,” said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
“A delegation from the country traveled to The Hague, Netherlands, to present the case of the Philippines before the Arbitral Tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Peace Palace. All three branches of government were represented in the delegation, showing a united stance in supporting our country’s claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” he said.
The Philippine delegation was composed of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and US-based lawyer Paul Reichler from Foley Hoag law firm, among others.
Other claimants to the rocks and other features in the South China Sea like Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam were present at the hearings as observers. The Philippines is asking the tribunal to define maritime entitlements under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS), not issues of territorial sovereignty.
The first round of arguments to convince the Arbitral Tribunal that it has jurisdiction to hear the Philippines’ case against China began on July 7.
“In his speech before the Tribunal, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario spoke about the case’s importance, not just to our region but also to the world, given that the spirit of UNCLOS lies at its core and since it could have implications on the future handling of maritime disputes,” said Lacierda.
“Subsequent speakers — such as Paul Reichler, Chief Counsel for the Philippines, among others — gave presentations on why the case falls squarely within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction, as well as on the strength of the Philippines’ environmental and fishing claims against the People’s Republic of China,” he added.
“The Arbitral Tribunal scheduled two rounds of hearing on jurisdiction and admissibility on the case filed by the Philippines. The first round of oral arguments was held on 7-8 July 2015. The Tribunal deliberated on scheduling a second round of arguments, conscious of its duty to assure parties of the full opportunity to present its case,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte recalled.
Speaking to journalists after the one and a half hour meeting, Carpio said the Philippines can expect a ruling on whether the tribunal has jurisdiction over the case by August or September, ABS-CBN reported. If the court decides it has jurisdiction, he said a decision on the merits of the case could be released in May 2016.
The network’s reported added Carpio believes the Philippines would win the case, but if it does not, “it only means that the rule of law will not apply.”
“We’ll have to pay more taxes to buy warplanes and warships,” he said. “There will be a naval arms race. It’s really happening now.”
The Philippine military is among the most underfunded and poorly equipped in the world while China, the world’s second largest economy, has been increasing its defense budget over the years to ramp up its military capability, including those in the dispute sea. Beijing’s recent defense white paper stressed the importance of beefing up its navy as it projects its power globally.
The Philippines filed a case before a UN court in 2013 questioning China’s territorial claims, particularly its nine-dash line that covers virtually the entire South China Sea.
Citing historical grounds, China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory. The Philippines and other claimant nations argue, however, that Beijing’s claims cover areas within their exclusive economic zones.
Last July, representatives from different branches of the Philippine government flew to The Hague in the Netherlands for oral arguments on the case.
Although Beijing has refused to take part in the proceedings, Carpio said a favorable ruling for the Philippines would gather international support.
“We are not alone. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia will benefit immensely from the ruling,” he said, referring to the other claimant countries in the South China Sea, a vital route for international shipping and trade.
“I think there will be a large majority of countries supporting us in demanding that China comply with the ruling,” he said.
Carpio said there is growing support for the Philippines’ position among its Southeast Asian neighbors, largely because of China’s building of artificial islands in disputed areas.
“The reclamations have really unnerved a lot of our ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors. They are now more supportive,” he said.
A favorable decision of the UN tribunal will not be the end of the story because it would not settle the issue of territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea, Carpio said.
He explained that the Philippines must take the case next to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, it would require China’s consent.
Carpio said Manila can convince its Southeast Asian neighbors to agree to submit the issue to the ICJ in order to exert pressure China, especially as their economies are about to be integrated.
“If China doesn’t join, it will be seen by the world as refusing to solve the dispute,” said Carpio.