MANILA will raise a separate environmental issue against Beijing before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), which will begin hearing the country’s challenge to China’s 9-dash line claim in asserting its ownership over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Malacanang spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Wednesday said that while the Chinese government has stated that its reclamation activities would be completed soon, Manila will “harness the international community” to show the impact of China’s illegal activities on the marine environment.
“We will continue to raise again the profile of reclamation activities. We have some limitations on our resources. And so what do we do? We use whatever resources that are within our capabilities and we can harness the international community to show that the things that the reclamation activities are doing, not only causing some political concerns but also environmental concerns as well,” Lacierda added.
He explained that the reclamation activities are not only political in nature as they pertain to territorial disputes among claimant countries but that they also have adverse environmental implications that need quick global attention.
“I think that’s a concern [that]extends beyond the country claimants, beyond the Philippines and China. It’s an environmental concern that will have a profound and long-lasting effect on the environment aspect,” Lacierda said.
“So we are in a global village. We can feel the effects of environmental degradation. So I think all of us, the community of nations, should be concerned not only from a political perspective but also from an environmental perspective,” he added.
Despite the country’s limitations, Lacierda said the government will continue to pursue the diplomatic track in resolving the disputes while at the same time raising the “profile of the reclamation activities.”
“Not only because of the concerns that surround the country-claimants, the different countries that claim the South China Sea, but also… Recently in the United Nations, we’ve have also raised the environmental impact of these reclamation activities,” he added.
“We have taken the diplomatic track, we have taken the arbitration track. At the same time we have also taken the diplomatic track in the sense of coming up with the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. That code of conduct is now with China [for it]to look into,” Lacierda said.
The Itlos proceedings will not settle the issue of who owns what in the disputed areas as the Philippines only sought to determine the “maritime entitlements” under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official said also on Wednesday.
According to DFA spokesman Charles Jose, the country’s claims are anchored on its exclusive economic zone provided for under the Unclos, signed by UN member-states including China.
He said filing a provisional measure against China’s 9-dash line claim would be “premature” because oral arguments on whether the tribunal has jurisdiction over the issue will only start this July.
“The court [arbitral tribunal]has not yet decided that they have jurisdiction. They cannot rule on a petition for additional measure,” Jose explained.
He said once the jurisdiction issue was settled, Manila would study its options, including a suggestion made by Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio to ask the Itlos to invalidate China’s 9-dash claim and order a stop to the reclamation works in the contested areas.
No done deal
Japan warned China also on Wednesday that its extensive land reclamation activities do not make ownership “a done deal.”
The rebuke came after Washington urged China against militarization of the area, saying it risked escalating tensions, even as satellite pictures have shown a runway long enough to let even the biggest aircraft land.
“We hold serious and significant concerns about the unilateral actions aimed at changing the status quo, which are bound to increase tension,” the Japanese government’s top spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
“With the completion of the reclamation, we must not accept the land reclamation as a done deal. We demand [China] not take unilateral actions that bring irreversible and physical changes,” he said.
Responding to the comments, Beijing countered that “it makes no sense” for Japan to press China on the issue.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and we do not need to prove this by building facilities on the islands and reefs,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing, using the Chinese name for the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands in the West Philippine Sea.