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Philippines initiates legal act vs China in territorial row

File photo of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

MANILA, Philippines - Apparently becoming frustrated with China's adamant stand on claiming almost all of the South China Sea as the latter's territory, the Philippines on Tuesday said it initiated arbitration to resolve the dispute.

In a text message sent to PhilStar.com, the Chinese Embassy said China "has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in South China Sea and its adjacent waters."

Beijing has consistently refused to discuss the territorial row under any arrangement save bilateral negotiations between the Philippines and China.

"This afternoon, the Philippines has taken the step of bringing China before an Arbitral Tribunal under Article 287 and Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to achieve a peaceful and durable solution to the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (WPS)," said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

He said a note verbale was handed by Assistant Secretary Teresa Lazaro to Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing on Tuesday afternoon.

Del Rosario  said the initiation of the arbitral proceedings is pursuant to Article 287 and Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was both signed by the Philippines and China.

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The Philippines has been claiming that Scarborough Shoal, which triggered a standoff between Manila and Beijing in April, is within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines as provided for by the UNCLOS. China, on the other hand, has been claiming the territory on the basis of historical claims.

"The initiation of Arbitral Proceedings against China on the nine-dash line is an operationalization of President Aquino's policy for a peaceful and rules-based resolution of disputes in the WPS in accordance with international law specifically UNCLOS," Del Rosario added.

"The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China. On numerous occasions, dating back to 1995, the Philippines has been exchanging views with China to peacefully settle these disputes. To this day, a solution is still elusive. We hope that the Artbitral Proceedings shall bring this dispute to a durable solution," he added.

Del Rosario said the Philippines asserts that China's so-called nine-dash line claim that encompasses virtually the entire South China/West Philippine Sea is contrary to UNCLOS and thus unlawful.

The DFA chief also said Manila is hoping that the arbitration tribunal will direct China to respect the Philippines' sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its EEZ, continental shelf, contiguous zone, and territorial sea over the West Philippine Sea.

Arbitration has been defined both by the 1899 and 1907 Hague conventions as "the settlement of differences between judges of their own choice and on the basis of respect for law."

An arbitration tribunal may be composed of a single arbitrator or a collegiate body. Contracting parties would have to shoulder arbitration costs.

As for the cost  of the proceedings that the Filipino people would have to pay for, Del Rosario said "one can not put a price in the concerted effort of the Filipino people and government in defending our patrimony, territory, national interest and national honor."

He said the arbitration proceedings may last between three and four years.

Zhang Hua, Deputy Chief of Political Section and Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy, said the "disputes on South China Sea should be settled by parties concerned through negotiations."

"This (settlement of disputes through negotiations) is also the consensus reached by parties concerned in the DOC (The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea)," Zhang said in a text message.

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