Hearings on PH, China dispute begin

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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The battleground between the Philippines and China is in the Netherlands, as the proceedings begin whether China likes it or not

MANILA, Philippines – Despite opposition from Beijing, the designated arbitral tribunal has begun to hear the Philippines’ unprecedented case against China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) jointly made this announcement Tuesday, July 16, days after another heated exchange between the Philippines and China.

The tribunal “was formally constituted and held its first meeting on July 11 at the Hague, the Netherlands,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a press briefing.

“The arbitral proceedings are now officially under way,” Hernandez added.

China, however, has repeatedly rejected the proceedings initiated by the Philippines under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Hernandez said the process will continue despite this, as the tribunal consults both parties “in every step of the way.” 

Will the Philippines win the case by default, given that China snubs it? Hernandez replied that the case “will be heard on its merits,” and added the Philippines has a “big advantage”

“We brought this case because we feel that we have a big advantage considering the provisions of international law, particularly UNCLOS, and it has always been our position that the 9-dash line claim of China has been expansive, excessive, and illegal as far as international law is concerned,” Hernandez said.

The battleground

For the next few months, or even years, the battleground in this case is in the Hague, the Netherlands.

Hernandez said the president and members of the tribunal have chosen this “as the seat of the arbitration and the permanent court of arbitration as the registry for the proceedings.”

He said the Philippines “consented to both.” He added that the tribunal asked both parties for comments by August 5, and requested them to propose a schedule for their written pleadings.

“The Philippine government is pleased that the arbitral tribunal is now formally constituted, and that the arbitration process has begun. The department and the OSG have pledged their fullest cooperation with the tribunal, in order to assure a fair, impartial, and efficient process that produces a final and binding judgment in conformity with international law,” the DFA said.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has named a topnotch maritime judge as president of the arbitral tribunal in the Philippines’ case against China. Thomas Mensah, an 81-year-old judge from Ghana and the first ITLOS head, presides over the 5-member arbitral tribunal.

The West Philippine Sea dispute heated up again in the past few days, after the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the Philippines lied in Belgium about their territorial row.

On Monday, July 15, Hernandez presented 8 facts to belie the statement made by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying last Friday, July 12. 

The Philppines, among other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has sought to peacefully resolve its territorial row with China. It is, for instance, part of upcoming meetings with China so “that we can have a discussion on a way forward,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

Del Rosario has also invited Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to visit the Philippines despite reportedly “testy exchanges” between them at a recent ASEAN meeting. – Rappler.com


China waving flag image from Shutterstock


Wooden Judge’s gavel image from Shutterstock


Philippines waving flag image from Shutterstock

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com