The government yesterday filed a formal documents to the United Nations challenging Beijing’s claim to most of the South China Sea, defying Chinese warnings, a day after a dramatic maritime stand-off with the Asian giant.
Foreign Sec-retary Albert del Rosario said Manila has filed the plea before a UN arbitration tribunal to declare China’s claims over the strategic and resource-rich waters as a violation of international law.
“It is about defending what is legitimately ours. It is about securing our children’s future. It is about guaranteeing freedom of navigation for all nations,” he told a news conference.
China’s claims over the South China Sea, believed to harbor vast oil and gas reserves, overlap those of the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The government announced last year that it will ask the United Nations to declare China’s claims over the area illegal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The tribunal had given Manila until yesterday to submit its legal brief.
Officials declined to discuss details of the pleadings called memorial nor provide a copy pending a review by the tribunal.
Del Rosario said the memorial contains “ten volumes with maps,” has “nearly 4,000 pages,” and will strengthen the Philippines’ case.
“(It) contains the Philippine analysis of the applicable law and the relevant evidence, and demonstrates that the arbitral tribunal has jurisdiction over all the claims made by the Philippines,” he said.
Del Rosario stressed that “every claim is meritorious.”“It sets out the specific relief sought by the Philippines in regard to each of its claims, and shows why it is entitled to such relief,” he added.
Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said the incidents of harassment in Ayungin Shoal, a feature off Manila’s western coast facing the South China Sea, was included in the Philippine case.
“The Philippines amended its statement of claim including Ayungin as part of the arbitration,” Jardeleza said.
Del Rosario said it is not known if China will file a counter-memorial, which is the usual practice in arbitration. Beijing has declared that it does not recognize the process.
The arbitral panel will decide on its next course of action upon receipt of the Philippine memorial.
Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said he expects the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), based in the German city of Hamburg, to advise both parties on the next steps. He did not know when a ruling will be made.
Both officials declined to disclose the specifics of around 4,000 pages of documents that were submitted to the tribunal.
China has refused to take part in the arbitration with its foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei last week warning that bilateral relations will suffer if the Philippines pursues the appeal.
Hong also said China was “committed to managing and resolving relevant issues (in the South China Sea) through dialogue and consultation”.
Manila has argued that China’s claims cover areas as far as 870 nautical miles (1,611 kilometres) from the nearest Chinese coast and interfere with the Philippines’ exercise of its rights to its continental shelf.
The Philippine filing came a day after a Filipino supply vessel slipped past a blockade of Chinese coastguard vessels to deliver supplies to, and rotate troops from, a remote and disputed South China Sea reef.
The dramatic confrontation took place at Second Thomas Shoal, where a small number of Filipino soldiers are stationed on a Navy vessel that was grounded there in 1999 to assert the Philippines’ sovereignty.
China had said its coastguard successfully turned away a similar Filipino attempt on March 9, forcing the Philippine military to air-drop supplies to the marines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) argued the disputed areas, including the Ayungin Shoal, are part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf over which Manila has sole sovereign rights under the UN sea treaty.
Both China and the Philippines are signatories to the 1982 treaty, but Beijing has repeatedly said it has sovereign rights over the entire Spratlys as well as waters and other islets approaching its neighbours.
It has also accused the Philippines of illegally “occupying” Ayungin Shoal, which is around 200 kilometers from the island of Palawan and about 1,100 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese land mass.
“In all of this, the Philippines... will do what is right. China can do what it prefers to do on this matter,” President Benigno Aquino’s spokeswoman Abigail Valte told reporters on Saturday.
She made the comments in Manila as a Filipino supply vessel was evading Chinese coastguard vessels to deliver supplies to Philippine marines stationed at a remote and disputed South China Sea reef. AFP