Philippines wins round 1 in historic case vs China

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Philippines wins round 1 in historic case vs China
(3rd UPDATE) A UN-backed arbitral tribunal rejects China's strongest argument against the Philippines: that the tribunal has no right to hear the Philippines' case over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)

SILENT WITNESS. The venue of the arbitration proceedings is the 100-year-old Peace Palace in The Hague, which also houses the International Court of Justice. Photo courtesy of PCA

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – In a round one victory for the Philippines, a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal at The Hague, in the Netherlands, unanimously decided it has the right to hear Manila’s historic case against Beijing over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The tribunal effectively rejected China’s strongest argument against the Philippines: that the tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague has no right to hear the Philippines’ case. (READ: FULL TEXT: Philippines’ round 1 win vs China over West Philippine Sea)

This initial victory means the tribunal can hear the merits of the Philippines’ case – and issue a definitive ruling by 2016.

In a news release late Thursday evening, October 29, the PCA said the tribunal “has held that both the Philippines and China are parties” to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and therefore “bound by its provisions on the settlement of disputes.”

HISTORIC CASE. The arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, listens to the first country that brought China to court over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Photo courtesy of PCA

“The tribunal has also held that China’s decision not to participate in these proceedings does not deprive the tribunal of jurisdiction and that the Philippines’ decision to commence arbitration unilaterally was not an abuse of the Convention’s dispute settlement procedures,” it said. 

“In light of the foregoing, the tribunal has concluded that it is presently able to decide that it does have jurisdiction with respect to the matters raised in 7 of the Philippines’ Submissions. The tribunal has concluded, however, that its jurisdiction with respect to 7 other Submissions by the Philippines will need to be considered in conjunction with the merits. The tribunal has requested the Philippines to clarify and narrow one of its Submissions,” the PCA added.

Read the full text of the PCA’s press release below:

  ”  style=”text-decoration: underline;” >Press Release No. 7 (Eng)

While issuing this award, the PCA clarified: “The tribunal’s award of today’s date is unanimous and concerns only whether the Tribunal has jurisdiction to consider the Philippines’ claims and whether such claims are admissible. The award does not decide any aspect of the merits of the parties’ dispute.”

Merits of the case

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs had previously explained that settling the jurisdiction question would pave the way for an evaluation of the merits of Manila’s legal assertions against Beijing. The Philippines wants the tribunal to declare China’s 9-dash line illegal. (READ: PH vs China at The Hague: ‘80% of fish’ at stake)

The 9-dash line is China’s demarcation to claim virtually the entire South China Sea. China says the 9-dash line has historical basis. (READ: Top Philippine judge uses Chinese maps vs China)

TEAM PHILIPPINES. Representing all 3 branches of Philippine government, the Philippine delegation comes in full force in The Hague. Photo courtesy of PCA

In an earlier interview, too, Senior Associate Justice Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court explained, “Once the jurisdiction is won by the Philippines, and the tribunal says it has jurisdiction, then we practically know the tribunal will strike down the 9-dash line.” 

The tribunal will soon convene a hearing on the merits of Manila’s case against Beijing.

The Philippines’ lead counsel in its case against China is Paul Reichler, an American lawyer who once defeated his country, the United States, in a landmark international case.

Called a “giant slayer,” Reichler is known for “representing small countries against big ones.” –

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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