File photo by Jay Directo/AFP
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The arbitral tribunal handling the maritime dispute between Manila and Beijing has ordered China to respond to the case filed by the Philippines not later than December 15, 2014.
In a June 3 press statement released from its headquarters at The Hague, The Netherlands, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) noted that it has been "mindful of its obligation" to determine its procedure on how to deal with the Philippines' pleading "while assuring to each party a full opportunity to be heard and to present its case."
On March 29, 2014, the Philippines submitted a nearly 4,000-page document, called a memorial, in a bid to end what it considered decades of bullying by China.
However, China has refused to acknowledge the designated arbitral tribunal's jurisdiction to hear the case. (READ: China rejects PH case, invokes int'l law)
The court took note of this in its June 3 statement. It said: "On 21 May 2014, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) received a Note Verbale from China in which it reiterated its position that “it does not accept the arbitration initiated by the Philippines” and that the Note Verbale “shall not be regarded as China’s acceptance of or participation in the proceedings.”
The tribunal's order for Beijing to respond - despite the Asian giant's refusal to take part in the proceeding - moves the case forward.
Experts said China's refusal to argue against the Philippines can fast-track the case. In this situation, the Philippines sees a ruling on the case by mid-2015.
The court of aribitration is an intergovernmental organization that was established by the 1899 Hague Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes. It facilitates arbitration, conciliation, and fact-finding, among other modes, to settle disputes among states, organizations and private parties.
China's claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, which straddles vital sea lanes and is believed to sit on vast oil and gas reserves, has strained its ties with Southeast Asian countries.
The Philippines considers the historic case as its last resort, after it exhausted more than 17 years of dialogue. (READ: PH slaps China with 8 facts)
The Philippines said it hopes other claimant countries, particularly Vietnam and Malaysia, “can either join us or they can file another case.”
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of 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 him at email@example.com.