WHEN the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, The Netherlands, tackles a complaint filed by the Philippines against China on July 7, American lawyers will assist the Philippines’ Solicitor General Florin Hilbay in defending the country’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), according to a Malacañang official.
China, which claims almost the entire West Philippine Sea based on its nine-dash line theory, has refused to take part in the legal proceedings.
In an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Hilbay will be assisted by American lawyer Paul Reichler of the law firm Foley and Hoag during the proceedings.
“[Hilbay], assisted by [Reichler] will present the arguments of the Philippines in the hearings on the issue of jurisdiction that will run from July 7 to July 13,” Coloma added.
A quick check on the Internet indicated that Foley Hoag LLP (formerly Foley, Hoag & Eliot LLP) is a law firm based in Boston, Massachusetts, with additional offices in Washington, D.C., New York and Paris, France.
The firm represents public and private clients in a wide range of disputes and transactions worldwide. It offers regional, national and international legal services and industries it has represented include life sciences and healthcare, technology, energy and renewables, investment management and professional services.
Foley Hoag also specializes in international litigation and arbitration and corporate social responsibility services, it was learned.
“The government has faith in its position that is based on the principles of the Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea]. If the decision of the arbitral tribunal would be favorable to the Philippines, the country will be given the opportunity to present its oral arguments on the merit of the petition,” Coloma explained.
Reichler, meanwhile, is a partner and co-chairman of the law firm’s International Litigation and Arbitration Department.
According to the company’s website, Reichler “is one of the world’s most respected and experienced practitioners of Public International Law, specializing for more than 25 years in the representation of Sovereign States in disputes with other States, and in disputes with foreign investors.”
“He belongs to a select group of elite lawyers with extensive experience litigating on behalf of Sovereign States before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in Hamburg,” the website said.
As the Philippines’ lead counsel before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos), Reichler previously stated that while the international tribunal has no police force to “make the defendant comply with the order,” losing parties comply “at least 95 percent” of the time.
Coloma said the three branches of government are united in defending the country’s sovereignty.
The Philippine delegation is headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa for the executive, Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte for the legislature and Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Francis Jardeleza for the judiciary.
Also part of the contingent are Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Undersecretary for Security Cluster Emmanuel Bautista and Malacanang deputy spokesman and Undersecretary Abigail Valte.
United States Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg, meanwhile, lauded the Philippines for seeking to resolve the sea dispute “peacefully, legally and diplomatically.”
On the sidelines of the celebration of American Independence Day late last week, the ambassador particularly congratulated Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario for his “strong and principled leadership on those issues.”
Goldberg reiterated the US support for the Philippines’ decision to bring the dispute before an international arbitration court.
He noted that the US would “like to see more dialogue, more adherence to legal and diplomatic and peaceful means to settle this claim.”
China has claims to nearly 90 percent of the resource-rich West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) that covers 3.5 million square kilometers.
It recently announced that it had completed reclamation works on islands and reefs in contested areas.
Washington, along with most of the international community, had expressed alarm over China’s moves, particularly when it revealed that its next project would be to build civilian and military facilities on the reclaimed islands.
Goldberg said China’s announcement was “disappointing.”
“That’s not what I think reduces tension in the region or helps the situation.That’s why we supported the Philippines right to take the case to Itlos to help settle some of the issues surrounding the South China Sea.”