Italy backs Philippines on UN arbitration over sea dispute
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - December 3, 2015 - 9:00am

ROME – Italian leaders expressed support for the Philippines’ move to bring its territorial dispute with China before an international tribunal during their meeting with President Aquino here yesterday.

Aquino held separate meetings with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and President Sergio Mattarella to strengthen diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Italy, which will mark 70 years in 2017.

The meeting with Mattarella was held at the Palazzo del Quirinale, a historic building that housed some popes and kings, while Aquino met Renzi at his official residence in Palazzo Chigi.

The issue of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) was tackled in both meetings, with leaders saying that the Philippines did the right thing in seeking a rules-based solution.

“Italy affirms the Philippines’ adherence to UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) in upholding freedom of navigation and acknowledges that the Philippines has taken an appropriate path to peaceful dispute resolution,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.  

In 2013, the Philippines filed a case against what it described as China’s exaggerated and baseless territorial claims before an international arbitral tribunal. China, however, ignored the Philippines’ complaint and insisted that maritime disputes should be settled through bilateral negotiations, not through multilateral channels.

China claims to have historical rights over virtually the entire South China Sea, where more than $5 trillion worth of trade passes through every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the area. 

To assert its claims, China built what appear to be military structures on some disputed reefs, raising concern among countries wary about their impact on freedom of navigation.

Last October, The Hague-based arbitration court ruled that it has jurisdiction over the Philippines’ case even if China refused to join the proceedings.

The Philippines presented last week the merits of its case before the tribunal.

Coloma said terrorism and extremist ideology were also tackled during the two meetings.

He said Aquino and Renzi “discussed threats posed by radicalization and global terrorism.” Aquino and Mattarella, meanwhile, expressed their support to efforts to curb terror threats.

“Both leaders expressed solidarity in the campaign against global terrorism. They share the view that it is vital to exert efforts toward de-radicalization,” Coloma said.

Europe has been placed on high alert in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, France that left 130 people dead last month. Terrorist group Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were a response to the air strikes against its allies in Syria. 

Philippine security officials have claimed that there is no credible IS threat in the Philippines but vowed to remain vigilant to prevent attacks.

Aquino also thanked the Italian leaders for supporting the upgrade efforts of the Philippine military, one of the weakest in the Asia Pacific region.

He cited Italy’s support for the Philippines’ acquisition of Augusta helicopters that are now being used for disaster relief operations.

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