MANILA is sending its “big guns” to The Hague in The Netherlands where the UN arbitral tribunal will hear oral arguments on the nation’s petition to invalidate China’s 9-dash line claim to the South China Sea.
While the legal panel that will face the UN arbiters will be headed by Solicitor-General Florin Hilbay and backed up by the US-based Foley Hoag law firm, top-ranked officials of the Philippine government will also fly to the Dutch city to lend support to the panel.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration has scheduled hearings from July 7 to 12.
According to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, the five-member tribunal will initially decide if it has jurisdiction over the case.
Manila requested the arbitral court to tackle not only the issue of jurisdiction but the merits of the case as well.
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said should the UN court rules that it does not have jurisdiction over Manila’s complaint, it would mean that the Permanent Court of Arbitration can no longer proceed with the case.
“If the court decides it has jurisdiction, then the Philippines will be asked to present oral arguments on the merits of the case,” Jose added.
“[T]hat will be the end if they don’t have jurisdiction. They can not proceed.”
China has repeatedly refused to join the arbitration process and insisted that its dispute with neighboring countries should be addressed bilaterally.
Earlier this year, del Rosario explained that they decided to take the dispute to the UN for arbitration after over 50 bilateral meetings with Beijing’s representatives were unsuccessful.
Malacanang deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa is now in The Netherlands to oversee preparations as well as meet with the legal team.
Other officials leaving today include Senate President Franklin Drilon, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Undersecretary Emmanuel Bautista and Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Francis Jardeleza.
Valte said sending a high-level delegation “clearly shows the support of the government for the case” and that the arbitration initiated by the Philippines is a “country effort.”
“Really, a lot of the members of the delegation have something to contribute. These people have been part of the discussions on the dispute involving the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea] and they would also like to see the progress of our complaint, our memorial before the tribunal,” she added.
On the sidelines of the 239th celebration of the United States’ independence, del Rosario promised that “we will work very hard to getting the tribunal to consider there is jurisdiction over the case we have filed.”
China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday called Manila’s arbitration case a “political provocation.”
Manila dismissed China’s allegation, insisting that arbitration is “a fundamental first step toward a peaceful and rules-based resolution of the issue.”