Philippines wins arbitration case vs China

MANILA (Updated) -- The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled Tuesday in favor of the Philippines, three years after the Aquino administration contested China's claim over the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

"The tribunal concluded there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line," the Permanent Court of Arbitration said in a statement.

Having found that certain areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, the tribunal said the China "had violated the Philippines sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by (a) interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum explorations, (b) constructing artificial islands, and (c) failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone."

The tribunal also stressed that Chinese law enforcement vessels "had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels."

(Video by John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)

In a press conference, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the decision upholds the international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

"Our experts are studying the Award with care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves. In the meantime, we call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety," he said.

"The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea. The decision upholds international law, particularly the 1982 Unclos," he said.

Yasay said that the Philippines is open to bilateral talks, following the tribunal's decision.

"The Philippines reiterates its commitment to efforts to pursue the peaceful resolution and management of disputes, in view to promoting and enhancing peace and stability in the region."

While the Philippine government welcomed the tribunal's decision, it maintained that it will take a second look at the ruling.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, in a text message, said Secretary General Jose Calida will first have to thoroughly study the decision.

In five days, Andanar said Calida is expected to provide a "complete and thorough" interpretation of the arbitration ruling.

"We shall wait for SolGen's interpretation of the ruling. The SolGen shall provide the President a synopsis of the ruling tomorrow morning, and a complete and thorough interpretation in five days," Andanar said.

'political, diplomatic'

Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Francis Jardaleza said that after winning the award from The Hague, the next necessary actions to secure maritime entitlements will now be up to president Rodrigo Duterte.

In a press briefing after the issuance of the award of the Arbitral Tribunal, Jardaleza said that the steps to further achieve territorial integrity must now be pursued as the country has now been given the right over the West Philippine Sea.

"With this legal advantage, the Chief Diplomat and Architect of our foreign policy, President Rodrigo Duterte, can now proceed with the necessary tools at his disposal to get the job done," Jardaleza said.

The associate justice, however, stressed that the next actions in pursuing the maritime entitlements must be political and diplomatic.

"The next move must be political and diplomatic... The disputes must be resolved diplomatically, by agreement between various states," Jardaleza said.

With the award, Jardeleza said that the rights and obligations of the parties under the Unclos are now clarified.

"The award issued pursuant to the compulsory procedure under two of part XV of Unclos is binding on China. It has been the consistent view of the legal team that this award will be a potent legal platform as our country moves forward to the political and diplomatic phase of our goal of effectively asserting our maritime entitlements under Unclos," Jardaleza said.

'No binding force'

After the ruling was issued, China said that the award has no binding force and that they will neither accept nor recognize it.

With China's statement, Jardaleza said that he hopes that it will abide the order of the PCA.

"We hope China will abide... That could be a matter for the Philippine government and the diplomats to meet the challenge," said Jardaleza.

In 2013, the Philippines questioned the validity of China's nine-dash line claim to most parts of the West Philippine Sea, including the Scarborough Shoal, including those of the Philippines' western seaboard from the provinces of Ilocos Norte up to Palawan.

The Philippines stressed that China violated the agreements on the international law and the Unclos.

Islands, such as Luzon, entitles the country that owns it to a 12 nautical mile (approximately 22 kilometers) territorial sea from the coastline with which it has full sovereignty. A country can exclude foreign entities from its territorial sea.

The island is also entitled to a 200 nm (approximately 370 km) exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which gives the country the sole right to exploit the resources within it such as fish and also mineral and oil reserves, if any.

Unclos provides that a country has sovereignty over waters extending 12 nautical miles (approximately 22 kilometers) from its baseline. A country, the law says, also has the sole right to exploit the economic resources within its continental shelf and up to 200 nautical miles (approximately 370 kms) from its coast.

In the case it submitted, the Philippines disputed eight maritime features that are currently under the control of China: Mischief Reef (130 nautical miles from Palawan), Kennan Reef (180 nm from Palawan), Gaven Reef (205 nm from Palawan), Subi Reef (230 nm from Palawan), Scarborough Shoal (120 nm from Luzon), Johnson Reed (180 nm from Palawan), Cuarteron Reef (240 nm from Palawan), and Fiery Cross Reef (255 nm from Palawan).

China has refused to participate in the case, saying the international tribunal has no jurisdiction over China's territorial sovereignty over several maritime features in the West Philippine Sea.

While China has said it will not accept the ruling, it may have bilateral talks with the new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to settle the territorial row.

The panel is chaired by Judge Thomas Mensah of Ghana, president of the tribunal. Its members include Judges Jean-Pierre Cot (France), Stanislaw Pawlak (Poland), Rüdiger Wolfrum (Germany), and Professor Alfred Soons (Netherlands).

Lawmakers' welcome ruling

Senators welcomed the latest ruling that affirmed the Philippine's right to the controversial Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the limits of China's expansionist plans in the West Philippine Sea.

Senator Franklin Drilon welcomed the decision and called on other nations to respect the ruling and help maintain the rule of law.

"We hope that the decision puts to rest any tension, mend strained relations, and restore goodwill among countries in the region. Asean and China can now move forward to finalize the Code of Conduct to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea," Drilon said.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, in a statement, said the decision provides the best chance for the Philippines to have a favorable outcome in any future multilateral or bilateral talks.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said the arbitral tribunal's ruling is victory for the country and the Filipino people.

Senator Leila de Lima said the ruling gives Philippines the international legal basis under the Unclos to challenge China's further expansionist moves.

"Together with our western allies like the United States, Japan and the international community in general, we should utilize this ruling to the utmost in defense of our sovereignty, EEZ entitlements and freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said the decision can serve as a reboot in the stalled Philippines-China diplomatic relations.

He lauded the decision as he explained that this will give the country a more equal footing in the inevitable bilateral talks with China.

Senator Joel Villanueva expressed optimism that China will soon recognize the ruling as it will have a lasting implication on the global trade given that the West Philippine Sea is one of the busiest trade routes in the world.

Senator Grace Poe, who described the ruling as historic, said the affirmation only shows that Filipinos are right in its strong stand to fight for the 200-mile EEZ in the West Philippine Sea.

Senator Risa Hontiveros encouraged the Duterte administration to craft an interdependent and progressive foreign policy guided by the Hague ruling.

Kabayan Party-list Representative Harry Roque said the Arbitral Tribunal's decision "is a very big win" for the Philippines but he urged both camps to return to the negotiating table.

Roque said the Duterte administration should take advantage of the ruling of the court, and settle once and for all the issue of conflicting claims within the West Philippine Sea.

Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez, for his part, urged China as part of the community of nations to respect the decision of the Arbitral Court and to adhere to the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in accordance with international law.

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate said called on the international community to step in and pressure China to de-escalate the situation in the West Philippine Sea and should stop militarizing the area. (Sunnex)


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