Water cannon episode can be used vs China

Paterno Esmaquel II
China's harassment and presence at Scarborough Shoal – which is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone – is a violation of the international law of the sea

BOLSTERING CASE. Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza says China has no right to drive away Filipino fishermen within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government’s lawyer said on Thursday, February 27, that Manila is considering to use the so-called water cannon incident at the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in its historic case against Beijing.

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza told reporters the Philippines may include the incident in its memorial, or written pleading, in its case against China. The memorial is due on March 30.

When asked how China’s harassment can possibly bolster the Philippines’ case, Jardeleza said the “general theme” is that the site of the incident is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

He noted that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the living resources such as fisheries within the EEZ “belong to us.”

“So in the first place, China has no right to be there,” Jardeleza said.

He explained: “So any action by China to harass, deprive, or shoo away our fishermen is a violation of UNCLOS. That would be the legal significance of raising it, if we do raise it.”

Jardeleza said this in an interview on the sidelines of a forum on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in the University of the Philippines. (Watch more in the video below.)

‘Bolstering’ PH’s claim

Organizers said it was the first time that Jardeleza spoke in a public forum on the case between the Philippines and China.

Jardeleza’s statement came two days after the Philippines “strongly” protested China’s recent moves in the disputed West Philippine Sea. (READ: ‘Even during storms, China harassed Filipinos’)

The incident, which took place last January 27, involved Chinese government personnel using a water cannon to drive Filipino fishermen away from Panatag Shoal.

Lawyer Harry Roque, director of the UP Institute of International Legal Studies, agreed that “the use of water cannons against our fishermen will bolster our claim.”

Roque said the incident shows it is “an issue of the interpretation” of the UNCLOS.

The issue, after all, is “who is entitled to fish.”

In an e-mail to Rappler, the Philippines’ lawyer in the case against China, Paul Reichler, said he is confident about the outcome. “I will simply say that the entire legal team that has been engaged by the Philippines believes that the Philippines has a strong case, both on jurisdiction and on the merits,” Reichler said. (READ: PH lawyer on China: Being ‘int’l outlaw’ has its price)

China, for its part, rejected the Philippines’ protest. It also stressed that the Philippines and China should resort to bilateral negotiations, not arbitration.

China is also pulling all stops to prevent the Philippines from submitting its memorial on time, sources told Rappler. (READ: China offers PH ‘carrot’ to quit case– Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

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