MANILA, Philippines – Led by Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, the Philippines’ powerhouse team against China is back in The Hague on Tuesday, November 24, to defend Manila’s historic case against Beijing over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Philippine Solicitor General Florin Hilbay and the Southeast Asian country’s lead counsel, Paul Reichler, said the Philippine team is “fully prepared to present” the country's case to the arbitral tribunal in The Hague.
The arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration is hearing the merits of the Philippines’ case beginning Tuesday.
China refuses to join the hearings as it pushes for one-on-one talks between Manila and Beijing about the West Philippine Sea.
The hearing on the merits is expected to last until Monday, November 30.
In her first bulletin on this round of hearings, Philippine Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Philippine team is composed of 48 delegates.
The official delegation includes the following members, coming from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of Philippine government:
'Giant slayer' included
The delegation also includes “6 Philippine ambassadors from different posts in Europe, counsel, advocates, expert witnesses, and support staff,” Valte said.
One of the members of the Philippine team, lead counsel Reichler, is the “giant slayer” who defeated the US in a landmark international case.
Valte clarified, too, that of the 48 members of the Philippine team, “only 17 are from the home offices of the different departments in Manila.”
Questioning the huge team defending the Philippines’ case, Philippine opposition leader Vice President Jejomar Binay earlier slammed what he called a “junket” in The Hague.
When they first flew to The Hague from July 7 to 13, the Philippine team argued the tribunal's right to hear the case – as China said the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the arbitral proceedings.
The tribunal in October favored the Philippines, and in effect struck down China's strongest argument.
This time, from November 24 to 30, the hearings will focus on the merits or the meat of Manila’s case against Beijing.
The Philippines asserts that China’s claim over the West Philippine Sea is baseless under the so-called constitution for the oceans, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
China is claiming the disputed waters using the so-called 9-dash line, a demarcation that is not found in UNCLOS.
The Philippines, on the other hand, is arguing that the disputed waters fall within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, within which the Philippines has the exclusive rights to fish. (READ: EXPLAINER: Philippines’ 5 arguments vs China)
The tribunal in The Hague is expected to rule on the Philippines’ case by 2016, the year Philippine President Benigno Aquino III steps down from office. – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com.