THE Philippines is confident of getting a favorable ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) which is expected to decide on the case brought by Manila against Beijing today.
But will the decision put an end to the bitter territorial dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)?
Analysts warned that whatever ruling the tribunal will hand down may put the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (Unclos) in jeopardy.
In an interview, renowned analyst Ramon Casiple said the tribunal may not likely decide in favor of China’s 9-dash rule in asserting its sovereignty over disputed isles and shoals as it could hurt the fundamentals of the Unclos.
“An unfavorable decision may affirm Chinese claim. But it’s dangerous in that it will set aside the fundamentals of Unclos,” he told The Manila Times.
Casiple noted that if the decision favored Manila, “it will undermine China’s claim.”
“(China) already said it will not recognize the tribunal’s decision. Which will also undermine the effectiveness of Unclos,” he pointed out.
The PCA in The Hague will issue its award at 5 p.m. today, roughly eight months after it assumed jurisdiction over the case.
The Philippines filed the memorial in 2013 after more than 17 years of fruitless bilateral consultations with China.
The Philippines said it has the right to exploit the natural resources in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as allowed under the Unclos.
China, on the other hand, bases its claim to almost 90 percent of the West Philippine Sea on ancient maps.
Rafael Alunan 3rd, Co-Convenor of the West Philippine Sea Coalition, said they expect the ruling to favor the Philippines.
“The coalition expects the Arbitral Tribunal and the free world led by the United States and Japan to uphold the (Unclos) and disregard China’s 9-dash line. Whenever freedom and international law are threatened, the threat must be confronted and defeated,” Alunan said in a statement released to the media.
“We fought for our rights in the West Philippine Sea against China’s piracy and armed aggression for the past four years. We rallied, used the power of the media, and supported the government when they filed a case before the Arbitral Tribunal against China. We faced harsh words from China and gave it back to them to show that we cannot be bullied,” he added.
Alunan said the country need to “shift gears” and “align with President Rodrigo Duterte’s guidance to stay calm and curb our emotions.”
“As Filipinos, we should act educated and not push China’s face in the mud. In high stakes diplomacy, this behavior should be avoided. It will unnecessarily aggravate China’s humiliation before the world. In hindsight, had China listened to us and the world earlier to turn back in order to save face, they would have avoided incurring this disgraceful embarrassment,” he stressed.
He admitted that the decision hovered above “sensitive and precarious times,” especially when he expects China to be “wounded” by the UN ruling.
Experts agreed that the tribunal will rule against China.
“I am confident that the UN arbitral tribunal will scrap China’s nine-dash line,” said Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
“I think [a ruling]against the Philippines is highly unlikely. There’s no chance of that,” Professor Lionel Jensen, an expert on Chinese history, culture and politics, at the Notre Dame University, said.
But even if the PCA judgment favors Manila, Lauro Baja, former Foreign undersecretary for policy and Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations said the Philippines “cannot rest and call it an achievement” without having it leveraged in some other fora.
“Of course, the challenge for us is how to leverage that advantage,” said Baja.
He stressed that there are no moral victories in questions of territorial sovereignty or maritime entitlement and that one cannot solve a question of territorial integrity or maritime entitlement solely on legal ground.
“What the department [of Foreign Affairs]or the Philippines may have missed is that they relied too much on the legal angle,” he said. “Second, we relied too much on the panel and we put all our eggs in the panel. We should have had more foresight like the others.”
Rosario Manalo, chairman of the High-Level Task Force on the Asean Charter and former Foreign undersecretary for international economic relations, noted that the tribunal’s ruling came late since China has already built artificial islands in disputed areas.
“It’s a little bit too late because the Chinese have already eaten up all the territories. They have their building activities, right?” she said.
Manalo explained that under international law, “the country who has physical control is the owner.”
What the next administration should do, she suggested, is to “sit down and discuss with China not the issue of ownership of the territorial waters but on how to work together, since our jurisdiction overlaps, and share the fruits of the sea.”
The West Philippine Sea is believed to potentially hold huge deposits of oil and gas. It is also a rich fishing ground and a vital maritime route, where $5 trillion of annual global trade passes through.
“That [resources]is what should be negotiated,” Manalo said. “Don’t raise anymore the issue of who owns what on territorial matter. That’s a non-negotiable topic. That to me is what the next president should look into.”
Activists on Monday staged a protest rally in front of the Chinese Embassy in Makati City (Metro Manila) to call for “Chexit” or China’s exit from Philippine waters.
Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) Metro Manila chairman Mong Palatino said several groups will continue to hold protests across the country until China leaves the West Philippine Sea.
“We ask our friends from other countries, especially our brothers and sisters in Southeast Asia, to call for ‘Chexit.’ It is a reasonable and just demand. China should stop bullying its neighbors,” he said.