Maritime expert calls PBBM to file a case vs China before UN Tribunal

Maritime expert calls PBBM to file a case vs China before UN Tribunal

A MARITIME expert has recommended to the Marcos administration the filing of yet another case against China before an international tribunal for encroaching on Philippine territories and undertaking illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Appearing on The Way Forward public affairs show hosted by lawyer-journalist Karen Jimeno on December 27, Prof. Jay Batongbacal, Director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said nothing is preventing the Philippines from pursuing a court case against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“The use of these international tribunals to assert our rights in international law is a way of gaining leverage, especially moral and political leverage, which is very important in international relations,” Batongbacal said.

The UNCLOS has established three institutions where a state may seek refuge to address its grievance against another state, namely: the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the International Seabed Authority (ISA), and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). 

“So we really should keep that in mind, that although we won the case against China in 2016, we still have quite a long way to go,” he said, referring to the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), a non-UN intergovernmental organization, in favor of the Philippines that invalidated Beijing's nine-dash line claim that covers nearly the entire South China Sea.

While the Philippine government has yet to study the merits of filing a case against China before an UNCLOS tribunal, he said there are several options available for the government to take to reaffirm its territorial sovereignty in the WPS.

“We have several other options. Everything from fact finding to calling on China to make a report before the international community, to lobbying with international organizations. This is something that the government should consider even before deciding on whether or not to file a case,” he pointed out.

Assessing on the current situation in the WPS where there are heightened Chinese harassment activities against Filipino fishermen and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Batongbacal said the resolution to the issue may take several years or a generation even.

That is why, he said, the approach to dealing with China vis-à-vis WPS should “cross political lines.”

“I think the resolution of these disputes with China will take even longer. And that is why it is important to emphasize for our people that when it comes to our position and our posture in the West Philippine Sea, this has to cross political lines,” he pointed out.

“Because when we are faced with China, it does not matter whether (the president) is a Marcos or Aquino or Duterte or what, there is only one country, one Philippines. Disputes like this necessarily take many decades, possibly even generations,” he said.

In the same program, Prof. Batongbacal shared with Jimeno that he has also recommended to President Marcos for the government to file before the UNCLOS’s CLCS a territorial ownership of a continental shelf in the seabed of the WPS, like the case of the Benham Rise in 2012.

“We also have a potential claim to a similar area of the seabed in the West Philippine Sea. And despite our recommendations to two previous administrations of Aquino and Duterte, no action was taken on our recommendations to also establish our claim there. We have made the same recommendations to the current administration and we're awaiting their decision,” he revealed.

Prof. Batongbacal served as a legal advisor to the Philippine delegation that successfully pursued the Philippines' claim to a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the Benham Rise Region, now called The Philippine Rise, before the CLCS in accordance with the UNCLOS.

Meanwhile, senior economist Prof. Ron Mendoza of the Ateneo Policy Center reiterated his proposal to consider the creation of a Department of Marine Resources or a Department of Blue Economy to harness the full potentials of the ocean resources as well as ensure its protection.

He said the environmental damage that causes the depletion of marine resources has become a concern of national security.

In the WPS, for example, Mendoza said coral reefs had been partially damaged or destroyed by the Chinese that something must be done at once to rehabilitate the and protect the corals.

“Kailangan protektahan ‘yung mga coral reefs, ‘yung mga natural resources para continuous ‘yung pag-harvest natin. So now, it also becomes a national security issue. China has been massively destroying coral reefs within the Philippines, and some of the fishermen from China are also engaged in cyanide fishing,” he said.

“Mahalaga ‘yung innovation ng Department of Maritime or Department of Blue Economy in several ways. Indonesia has such a ministry, and it is able to effect collective action across different fronts that need to take place almost simultaneously to achieve what you want to achieve,” he stressed.

Meanwhile former Kalayaaan Island Group Mayor and now Councilor Eugenio Bito-onon recommended to populate not only the Pag-asa Island, which is the biggest and is the KIG seat of power, but the rest of the KIG before the Chinese or other countries occupy them.

“If we have a Scarborough in Luzon near Zambales, we have six of that in Kalayaan. Vietnam has 21 and Taiwan has the biggest island. And then now, China has seven features, Malaysia has five and the Philippines has nine features- five islands, two reefs, and two sandbars. Pag tiningnan mo ‘yan, half of it has been occupied by foreign countries. And we are just working, protecting, and trying to really protect what is left to us,” Bito-onon said.

“The way to control and manage all the features that are left to us is to occupy. Kailangan posisyunan natin, occupy natin siya,” he concluded. PR


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