THE ruling of the international arbitral tribunal will not put an end to the dispute between China and the Philippines on who has sovereignty over the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), an international law expert said on Tuesday.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, a former UP College of Law professor in International Law, explained that since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) only deals with the law of the sea, the tribunal’s ruling did not resolve a dispute concerning sovereignty over land or island for that matter.
“The dispute does not end here because the scope of the UN tribunal is very limited to the interpretation of the application of the Unclos—an agreement that provides the rules for establishing a state’s maritime entitlements or delimits certain rights such as the right to explore or exploit the waters called sovereign rights,” Roque told reporters.
“Sovereign rights are not equivalent to full sovereignty or ownership of a state over a land territory or an island. The Unclos does not deal with the question of who owns land territories or islands. The concept of sovereign rights deals only with a state’s right to exploit resources over a defined maritime area, to the exclusion of other states,” he said.
“We have to manage the people’s expectations here and inculcate in our minds that the UN tribunal cannot resolve the sovereignty issue on the Spratly Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea,” Roque added.
Another analyst said other countries may benefit from the tribunal’s verdict.
Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science professor at De La Salle University in Manila, said the ruling may also prompt other countries with territorial disputes with China to file similar cases before the international arbitral tribunal.
While China has rejected the ruling, Beijing cannot ignore it because it also needs the
Unclos to protect its interests in other parts of the world, Heydarian noted.
He said the Philippines and China can opt to tap a Reconciliation Commission, under the Unclos, which will serve as an advisory board.
“Both countries have to reiterate their commitment to international law but perhaps in a different mechanism,” Heydarian added in a television interview.
“The Reconciliation Commission will not come out with a binding verdict. What it can provide is advisory opinion like counseling on how we can come together and make this relationship work,” he said.
But compelling China to honor the tribunal’s ruling will only worsen the situation in the region, analyst Bobby Tuazon warned also on Tuesday.
Tuazon, the director for Policy Studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), said the government should ask China to stop its assertive actions in the Scarborough Shoal and allow Filipino fishermen to use the fishing grounds unrestricted.
“This is one step that will help push bilateral talks where the Duterte government’s objective is to gain economic concessions from Beijing,” he added.
Senator Leila de Lima said the ruling gives the Philippines legal basis 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,” she also noted.
Tuazon, however, said seeking allied countries’ support to force China to heed the ruling will only provoke a higher level of regional tension.
He added that while the tribunal upheld the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the bigger question is whether the ruling can be enforced considering that China had refused to be part of the arbitration and rejected the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
Some senators said the Philippines should pursue talks with China for a possible joint exploration of certain areas of the West Philippine Sea.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan said the government should consider negotiation even if the areas that will be covered by the talks are within the country’s EEZ.
“I’m not saying that we will give those areas out. What I’m saying is that we should consider those options when we are negotiating. We have nothing to lose,” Honasan added.
The senator said joint exploration can be an option.
Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 3rd also expressed openness to the holding of talks with Beijing.
“This decision provides the best chance for the Philippines to have a favorable outcome in any future multilateral or bilateral talks,” Aquino said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan agreed, saying the ruling gives the Philippines equal footing with China.
He said it also allows both parties to come to the negotiating table with fresh perspectives.
Senate President Franklin Drilon is hoping that the ruling will put the tension to rest and restore good relations 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 in a statement.
“The Philippines will study the ruling and its ramifications, and plan its next steps, bearing in mind the utmost need for peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law and the maintenance of friendly relations among nations,” he added.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA