PH on 'right track' over China challenge
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Philippines is on "the right track" in seeking UN arbitration to resolve its territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said on Wednesday, February 20.
Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, the chief aide of President Benigno Aquino III, explained the government expected China to ignore the plan to bring the matter up at the United Nations and stressed the case could still proceed without Beijing' approval.
"We will follow the process whether they agree to it or not," Alemndras told reporters.
"Of course, we are of the opinion that we are on the right track... we would not have started it if we did not think that we would have enough basis to file all these issuances," he added.
Beijing accused Manila of compiling a "factually flawed and false" claim and announced it has sufficient historical and jurisprudential evidence to support its sovereignty over the whole South China Sea.
Arbitration will continue - DFA
Whatever China does, the international arbitration process initiated will continue, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also said on Wednesday.
"The decision of China to reject the friendly, peaceful and durable form of settlement of disputes provided for international law will not stop the arbitration process," DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters.
In a press briefing, Hernandez explained that the proceedings under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establish that "even if one party does not join or participate in the process, the process will continue until a decision is made by arbitral tribunal."
The next step, he said, is now to form the 5-member arbitration panel as established by UNCLOS.
If China refuses to appoint its member, the President of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) will be forced to choose the remaining 4 members, as the Philippines has already chosen its representative, German judge and former ITLOS President Rudy Wolfrum.
China 'should' obey if ruling favor PH
Asked how a potential ruling favorable to the Philippines will enforced if China does not budge from its position, Hernandez said that is another question altogether.
"As a responsible country, they should obey and accept the decision of the arbitral tribunal especially because they are also a signatory of UNCLOS," he said.
Pressed on the issue, Hernandez added: "There is always what we call the conscience and the voice of the international community which should, as responsible members of the UN, follow resolutions [and] decisions that are made by the UN and as well as any of his organs."
"So if the decision is made favorable to the Philippines, then as a responsible member of the community of nations, [China should] abide by that decision" in absence of an international law to make Beijing obey, he said.
Over the past two years Manila has complained about Beijing's increasing assertiveness in enforcing its claims, particularly around areas believed to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves.
China's stance led to a standoff last year with the Philippines over rich fishing grounds around Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop much closer to the Philippine coast than to China's shores. - with reports from Agence France-Presse & Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com