ARTECHE, Eastern Samar: President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Friday said he was elated by the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that unanimously ruled it has jurisdiction over a maritime dispute between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
Speaking to reporters, the President noted that the rule of law has prevailed on the case as he expressed hope that China would abide by its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which counts the Asian superpower as among its signatories.
“I was happy with what the tribunal said, that it has jurisdiction over the issue … they might come up with a final decision as early as next year,” Aquino said in Filipino.
“The development was fast and action was swift. The discussion on the issues were really iffy and we’re happy that the rule of law has prevailed,” he added.
The tribunal ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear merits of the case as presented by Manila under the Unclos, rejecting China’s argument that the dispute was about territorial sovereignty and therefore is beyond the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte, who was with a Philippine panel who went to The Hague when Manila made its presentation before the tribunal, also on Friday said the panel is is ready for the next hearing.
“Malacañang is elated with the decision and our people can be assured that those representing our country have been continuously preparing for this,” Valte told reporters.
She has been with the top-level delegation representing the Philippines in The Hague.
Despite the development, Aquino nonetheless expects relations between Manila and Beijing to improve despite the decision, saying it will clarify countries’ rights and entitlements.
“If there are no other vague issues, it then becomes clear that our position should be the one to be followed and that would eventually pave the way for an improved relationship,” the President said.
Aquino said he is hoping that the decision would not prompt Chinese President Xi Jinping to skip the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila this November, adding that the dispute is not the sum total of the two countries’ relations.
He is expected to again raise the issue of the territorial row when Southeast Asian leaders meet with their dialogue partners, including China, in the Asean summit in Malaysia.
“Well, that would be one of the issues in the agenda. Perhaps, I’ll remind the leaders during my last participation in the Asean Summit that we’ve tackled a lot of issues concerning the Declaration of Conduct of Parties since 2002 as well as the reminders we gave at Phnom Penh [Cambodia] in 2012 that remain pending,” the President said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Office of the Solicitor General, which represents the Philippines, also welcomed the ruling of the international tribunal.
”The decision of the arbitral tribunal on the jurisdiction would give way for the proper expression on the merits that have become the basis of the Philippines’ position on the issue,” Coloma said.
Coloma said the ruling on the jurisdiction paves the way for the furtherance of the proceedings to evaluate the merits of the Philippines’ position on the disputed territory.
“We will await further advice from the tribunal,” he added.
Regarding the presence of the US patrol ships in the West Philippine Sea, Coloma said the basic position of the Philippines “is to promote the freedom of navigation, recognizing that the South China Sea or [West Philippine Sea] is one of the most important arteries for global commerce.”
”We have always maintained that all disputes pertaining to maritime entitlements in bodies of water will have to be resolved peacefully in accordance with the rules such as those contained in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Coloma said.
The Department of National Defense also welcomed the ruling.
“We welcome this development. It’s a good development not only for the Philippines but to all other countries that believe in [Unclos],” Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.
“We’ll see where this would lead us. We Filipinos should monitor the developments very closely,” Galvez added.
He said the country’s activities in the disputed seas will continue.
“We will continue what we’re doing before. We will support our troops, our regular activities. We will maintain what we do,” Galvez added.