Thursday, January 22, 2015

Philippines, U.S. reiterate South China Sea row must be settled through international arbitration, says Palace official

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 22): Philippines, U.S. reiterate South China Sea row must be settled through international arbitration, says Palace official

Senior Philippine foreign affairs and defense officials and their counterparts from the United States have reiterated that the maritime dispute in the South China Sea must be resolved through international arbitration.

Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said during a press briefing in MalacaƱang on Thursday that the officials of the two countries made the statement following their fifth Bilateral Strategic Dialogue held in Manila on January 20 to 21.

“The two countries expressed concern over developments in the South China Sea that are inconsistent with the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and international law, and emphasized the importance of upholding peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, and freedom of navigation and over flight,” Coloma said, reading the joint statement.

“The two sides reiterated that international disputes in the South China Sea should be settled in accordance with international law, and through diplomatic and other peaceful means, including the use of international arbitration,” he added.

Manila and Beijing are both laying claim to the Kalayaan Group of Islands, and the Ayungin and Scarborough Shoals located in the South China Sea.

On March 30 last year, the Philippines filed a memorial before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) against China.

Philippine officials on Wednesday accused China of expanding its reclamation work in the disputed territory, describing it as “massive.”

Present during the dialogue were Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Evan P. Garcia and National Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo F. Batino for the Philippines, and Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel and Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear for the US.

Meanwhile, asked if the dialogue discussed the status of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which is pending at the Supreme Court, Coloma said both sides have acknowledged that there are legal questions that are now being addressed at the Supreme Court.

Former senators Wigberto TaƱada and Rene Saguisag filed a petition at the Supreme Court in May last year, questioning the validity of the EDCA.

The petitioners argued that the agreement is unconstitutional and violates several provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

The EDCA was signed in April last year, shortly before US President Barrack Obama arrived in Manila for a visit.

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