MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines wants Malaysia and Vietnam to join its historic case against China, which detests countries coming together against its expansive claims over the South China Sea.
The Philippine government’s lawyer, Francis Jardeleza, told reporters that Malaysia and Vietnam “can either join us or they can file another case, which can theoretically be consolidated.”
“We have been hoping that those two countries will not only interplead but join us, but that is their own decision,” Jardeleza said Thursday, February 27, on the sidelines of a forum on the disputed sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.
“We will consider whether all of the protests that they have had will be part of our memorial,” he added.
The Philippines’ memorial, or written pleading, is due on March 30.
Jardeleza said he is not aware if the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has formally asked Malaysia and Vietnam to join the Philippines in its case. “But my sense is, the sentiment of Foreign Affairs is, you know, as neighbors and countries friendly to us, they’re very much welcome if they join our suit.” (Watch more in the video below)
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez, for his part, didn’t categorically say if the DFA has requested Malaysia and Vietnam to do this.
He explained to Rappler, “Other countries will make their decisions on this issue based on their own national interests, and we will respect whatever decision they come up with.”
During his state visit in Malaysia, Aquino on Friday, February 28, said there was no discussion about this prospect.
When asked how big a factor Malaysia and Vietnam will play, Jardeleza said it will be “very useful” if they join the Philippines in its case. “It will not be fatal if they are not there, but it will be useful to have friends joining our case,” he said.
Forum organizers said it was the first time Jardeleza publicly spoke about the Philippines’ case against China.
‘Quietly’ boosting cooperation
A day before Jardeleza said these, Reuters reported that Malaysia and Vietnam have been working more closely with the Philippines in dealing with China over the South China Sea.
Quoting senior diplomats, the wire agency said “two Chinese naval exercises in less than a year around the James Shoal,” a disputed territory, “have shocked Malaysia and led to a significant shift in its approach to China’s claims.”
“The latest incident in January, in particular, prompted Malaysia to quietly step up cooperation with the Philippines and Vietnam, the two Southeast Asian nations most outspoken over China’s moves in the region, in trying to tie Beijing to binding rules of conduct in the South China Sea, the diplomats said,” according to Reuters.
In August 2013, Vietnam had said it is “very supportive” of the Philippines’ case against China.
“We’re discussing the possibilities of how we may be able to cooperate more closely with them in terms of the settlement of these disputes,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said after meeting with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.
When asked if Vietnam is open to “interplead” in the Philippines’ case against China, Del Rosario replied: “That’s one option that, of course, is a possibility, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Back then, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal told Rappler that a party that interpleads “wants to be part of the action.”
This means participating in the arbitration with its own agents and counsel, Batongbacal said in a phone interview in August 2013.
Batongbacal, however, said Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the basis for the arbitral proceedings, does not bring up interventions like this.
“Annex VII does not provide for intervention [or] interpleader. Therefore, it can only be allowed if it is permitted in the tribunal’s rules of proceedings as agreed [upon] by the parties,” explained Batongbacal, who heads the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
Not only ‘moral victory’
While the Philippines is drumming up support for its cause, it is also bolstering its case against China.
In the forum on Thursday, Jardeleza said the Philippines, for one, is considering to use the so-called water cannon incident in the historic case. (Watch more in the video below)
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.
China, on the other hand, is pulling all stops to prevent the Philippines from filing its memorial, sources told Rappler. (READ: China offers PH ‘carrot’ to quit case)
Despite China’s moves, Jardeleza said the Philippines is not only aiming for a “moral victory.” This, even if “there is no such entity as an international policeman to enforce international arbitration decisions.” (READ: PH lawyer on China: Being ‘int’l outlaw’ has its price)
“Under the rule of law, we’re always gunning for a legal victory,” the lawyer said. – Rappler.com