THERE is no backing out for the Philippine government from a petition for arbitration that it filed before a United Nations body to settle a maritime dispute with China, especially since more powerful countries are backing Manila’s stand, a Malacanang official said on Sunday.
In an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. noted that the outpouring of international support for the Philippines’ position on the dispute with China over maritime territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) further emboldens the government to pursue its claims through the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos) in The Hague, The Netherlands.
“It is very clear that it is not only the Philippines that believes that the filing of the petition before the Court of Arbitration is justified… Many countries are supporting our stand on the issue,” Coloma said.
He was reacting to the Chinese government’s earlier pronouncements that the filing of the petition was a form of “political arrogance” or legal prejudice on the part of the Philippines.
Contrary to such allegation, Coloma said, powerful political and economic blocs around the world have supported the Philippine cause.
He cited the conclusion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Special Summit in the US last February where even President Barack Obama highlighted the importance of “shared commitment to maintain peace, security and stability in the region, ensuring maritime security and safety, including the rights of freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the seas, and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce as described in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) as well as non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities.”
Coloma explained that the Philippines has adhered to the same principle of a peaceful and rules-based approach in resolving the dispute.
“As a member of the international community, the Philippines’ filing of a petition with the Permanent Court of Arbitration is a strong indication of our adherence to this principle,” the official pointed out.
Only recently, during the G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, the foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and United States denounced the “intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions” in the contested sea.
The officials endorsed “peaceful management and settlement of maritime disputes through applicable internationally recognized legal dispute settlement mechanisms, including arbitration.”