Palace: UN court ruling must be respected

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang yesterday stressed the need to respect whatever decision will be made by a United Nations tribunal on the Philippines’ complaint against China following an assessment by an American think tank that Manila would likely get a favorable ruling.

Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said respecting the ruling would ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion worth of international trade passes every year.

“At the recently concluded special ASEAN-US summit, President Aquino called upon all countries that believe in the rule of law and in peaceful dispute resolution to follow and abide by the decision of the UN arbitral tribunal on the Philippine petition,” Coloma said.  

“Such a call, if heeded, will serve to promote the primacy of freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea and in all international sea lanes as this is essential to the continuous flourishing of global trade and commerce,” Coloma added.

 Earlier, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said the UN arbitral tribunal would “almost certainly” rule that China’s expansive maritime claim in the South China Sea is not valid and that the country is “not entitled to any historic rights beyond the regime of territorial seas, exclusive economic zones, and continental shelves laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

 “This will not affect China’s territorial claims to the disputed islands and rocks of the South China Sea, nor will it necessarily mean that Beijing cannot make large claims to the seabed and waters in the area,” AMTI director Gregory Poling said in an article posted on the group’s website.

 “But it will amount to an order that China clarify its maritime claims based on entitlements from land features, not ambiguous dashes on a map,” Poling added.

 He noted that although Beijing would not suddenly clarify its claims in the South China Sea because the tribunal orders it to do so, it has also worked hard to maintain its image since Manila brought the case in early 2013 to get the Philippine government to drop it.

“That is because being branded an international outlaw will involve significant reputational costs for Beijing. It will undermine China’s narrative that it is a responsible rising power that deserves a greater hand in global governance. It will make other countries wary of Chinese commitments and will drive regional states even closer to Tokyo and Washington,” Poling added.

 A political compromise, which may involve entering into negotiations with the Philippines, might become appealing to China but promoting this would need Manila and Washington to embark on a sustained campaign to garner international support for the tribunal’s ruling, Poling also said.

The AMTI director added that the support must come from Australia, Japan and the European states, and the Philippines’ Southeast Asian neighbors.

 China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea while the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims. It said its claim is based on “historical rights,” a concept rejected by the Philippines and other countries that believed territorial claims should be consistent with international law.

 Unfazed by criticisms, China built what appear to be military structures on at least seven South China Sea reefs that are also being claimed by the Philippines.

 In 2013, the Philippines challenged the legality of China’s territorial claim before the international arbitral tribunal, calling it “excessive” and “exaggerated.” China, however, refused to answer the complaint, saying it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea.

 Last October, the Philippines bagged a legal victory after an arbitration court in The Hague ruled that it has jurisdiction over the case it filed against China. The court said China’s refusal to participate in the proceedings does not deprive it of jurisdiction.

 With the issue of jurisdiction settled, the next hearings will focus on the merits of the Philippines’ case.

Prepare for armed conflict

Meanwhile, a lawmaker called on the government and the general public to prepare for possible armed conflict that may arise from the recent actions of China in the disputed sea.

 Rep. Samuel Pagdilao of party-list Anti-Crime and Terrorism through Community Involvement Support (ACT-CIS) said China’s actions continue to escalate tensions in the area, the latest being the installation of surface-to-air missiles in waters claimed by Vietnam.

 He said the missiles are a threat to all Southeast Asian claimants to the disputed waters.

 But Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House committee on national defense and security, said that while the probability of war over the West Philippine Sea has increased, that possibility is “still far off.”

 “This is because China can’t still challenge the US, and it’s not just the US… because if this dispute ends up in war, there will be an alliance,” Biazon said over dzBB.

Pagdilao said China is flexing its “military muscle to show how serious they are in acquiring all of Spratlys.”

 He asked the government to fast-track the modernization of the police and the Armed Forces, including the return of a missile defense system once used by the military.

 Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian also pushed for the revival of the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) as a means of inculcating in the youth patriotism and nationalism in the wake of Chinese aggression.

 He cited a constitutional provision that allows the government to call on its people to defend the state.

Biazon said the Philippines should not only modernize its military capability but also strengthen its alliances. – With Paolo Romero

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