Malacañang on Saturday said the Philippine government will continue to pursue international arbitration to resolve its maritime dispute with China over the West Philippine (South China) Sea.
“We will not speculate on what further action or reaction that China has already spoken on the ruling. What we have always advocated, is that we have always resorted to the diplomatic track,” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
He added, “Yes, we will continue to resort to arbitration. That is the most logical and the most… I suppose the most operative way of enforcing our claim regardless of how our neighbor, China, would react on the matter”.
Beijing on Friday reiterated its call to Manila to return to the “correct path” in resolving the sea disputes. Beijing refuses to recognize the ongoing proceedings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague (The Netherlands) and has repeatedly said they prefer to resolve disputes in a bilateral manner.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario early this year said Manila tried to talk things over with their counterparts from Beijing, but all attempts ended in deadlock. China’s aggressiveness in illegally occupying territories in the disputed area and its reclamation activities prompted the Philippine government to seek international arbitration.
“China urges the Philippines to honor its own commitments, respect China’s rights under international law, change its course and return to the right track of resolving relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiations and consultations,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The PCA ruled on Thursday that it has immediate jurisdiction over seven out of 15 issues raised against China by the Philippines, which asks the tribunal to declare Beijing’s sweeping claims over the disputed areas in the South China Sea illegal and excessive.
“From the outset naman, China has openly stated that they will not participate. The closest thing without participating was to submit a position paper. Very clear naman po sa kanilang submission of the position paper itself, this is not equivalent to submitting to their jurisdiction, naintindihan po ‘yan ng Permanent Court of Arbitration,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda, a lawyer, said the Philippines is ready to present the merits of the case before the PCA.
“Obviously, our track is to go by way of arbitration and we will continue to pursue that track. It just helped us. The PCA has looked with favor on our petition, so we look forward to presenting the merits of the case,” he said.
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives also hailed the PCA ruling.
According to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., the court’s ruling was a big relief as it clears the way for the main hearing on the merits of the country’s case, adding that resolving this issue legally is aimed at ending conflict and is actually a move towards maintaining peace in the area.
“We are very happy with the United Nations Tribunal ruling in our country’s favor in the case filed by our government to protect our rights in the West Philippine Sea. Now the court can proceed with its hearing on the merits of our case,” said the Speaker.
Belmonte, who was among the officials who attended the hearing last July in The Hague, said that Filipinos must remember that the sea conflict is only one aspect and that Filipinos should intend to sustain fruitful ties with China.
He also said that while the Philippines is at the forefront of this current West Philippine Sea case, it is actually an issue of freedom of navigation in international waters, which when resolved will eventually benefit many other nations.
He noted that the country’s powerhouse team has long been ready to prove its case that a huge part of the West Philippine Sea falls under the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The country’s legal team, according to Belmonte, should be commended for its competence and brilliance in asserting and defending the country’s maritime rights in the West Philippine Sea.
“They are well-prepared and equipped to move on to the next stage of this case and peacefully resolve this conflict through legal means. We fully support our legal team members and are truly proud of them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares on Saturday said that the decision to assert jurisdiction over the dispute is an initial defeat for China.
The decision, however, is merely procedural and not yet a resolution on the merits.
“While we welcome this initial decision the Philippine government should further press the resolution on the merits of the seven issues especially the second issue on the Philippine claim that the 9 dash line is a violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the sixth issue that illegalizes China’s occupation and construction activities,” said Colmenares, who is also a lawyer.
“We must reiterate the resolution of the eight other issues not yet ruled upon. The Filipino people and those of other Asian countries and even countries outside Asia must continue to resist China’s control of the South China Sea for after all, under international law, no country should be allowed to control an entire sea, as this endangers international navigation,” he added.
According to the Makabayan senatorial candidate, the international community will go against China, and China can become a pariah if it refuses to recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction to resolve the dispute while continuing its aggressive expansion in the disputed area.