The Philippines on Monday submitted additional documents, which include maps and charts, to strengthen its position questioning the validity of China’s 9-dash line claim in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The supplemental Memorial answers the 26 questions sent to Manila by the five-member International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), which is based in The Hague, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said on Tuesday.
The 12-volume, 3,000-page submission includes 200 pages of written arguments and a 200-page atlas containing detailed information about 49 islands, reefs and other features in the South China Sea.
The Itlos required the Philippines to submit a supplemental memorial after China publicized its position on the case in December 2014.
China’s position paper was meant to address the 4,000-page Memorial or pleading that the Philippines filed against Beijing in March 2014. The publication came about a week before the Itlos deadline for China to reply to the Philippines’ Memorial.
China refused to file a counter-memorial as it refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of the Itlos on the issue.
Beijing wanted to push for a bilateral approach to the issue.
Vietnam has also filed a case against China before the Itlos.
Beijing’s position paper is part of China’s legal strategy–to reject the arbitral proceedings yet to use media to argue against the Philippines.
China’s ongoing reclamation activities in several reefs in the disputed area are not included in the Memorial as these were excluded from the set of questions that the Itlos submitted to Manila last December 16.
Jose said the DFA is looking for an opportunity to raise the issue.
According to the DFA spokesman, China’s reclamation activities could “adversely affect” the arbitration case as these “are intended to alter the conditions on the ground and change the status quo.”
But since the tribunal did not ask specific questions about the reclamation, the Philippines “did not go to that topic in great detail.”
“If there will be an opportunity next time to raise it [reclamation issue], definitely [we will]. It would be good if the tribunal can look at the features themselves and see what were the original features there, and what will happen after the reclamation,” Jose said.
“There’s a great bearing [on the case]if there is alteration on the features and characters . . . if other are thinking that they would change the maritime entitlements, then that is something we should look into,” he added.
Turning previously submerged features of the region into islands would extend China’s or any other claimant’s sovereignty and jurisdiction because of territorial and maritime entitlements such as exclusive economic zones and extended EEZs.
After this supplemental submission, China will also be given the time to submit its own arguments. But since it had refused to participate in the arbitration, it is more likely that it would just let this requirement slide.
The Philippines expects to be called for oral arguments in July.
By March 2016, the Itlos will hand down its decision with or without China’s participation.
It might even take the court a shorter time to decide on the case because of China’s non-participation, Jose said.
The supplemental Memorial was a combined effort and coordination of relevant agencies, a statement from the Foreign Affairs department said.
“The Philippines appreciates the evident care and attention the tribunal is giving to the case, as reflected by the scope and detail of the tribunal’s questions,” it added.
With “utmost professionalism,” the tribunal managed to hurdle the difficulties created by China’s decision not to appear or submit any of their arguments to the court.
“The Philippines is confident that its answers to the tribunal’s questions leave no doubt that the tribunal has jurisdiction over the case and that the Philippines’ claims, including in particular its claims concerning the nine-dash line, are well-founded in fact and law,” the statement said.
The West Philippine Sea is a region rich in mineral and oil deposits. More than $5 billion worth of global trade passes by it annually, making it one of the most vital sea routes in the world.
Beijing’s expansive claims in the region have rocked the international community, who continues to call for a peaceful resolution to the disputes arising from the overlapping claims of China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam.
The Philippines decided to elevate the dispute before the Itlos in January 2013 after a standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the South China Sea.