Friday, July 17, 2015

Int'l tribunal vows to rule on jurisdiction issue on PHL-China sea row before yearend

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 17): Int'l tribunal vows to rule on jurisdiction issue on PHL-China sea row before yearend

The Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration has vowed to hand down a decision on whether it will assume jurisdiction on the Philippines’ case against China in the West Philippine Sea “as soon as possible,” saying a ruling is expected before the year ends.

In a statement on Monday, the tribunal said it has already entered the deliberations phase upon the conclusion of the oral arguments from July 7 to 13 in The Hague, which was attended by a powerhouse Philippine government delegation, backed by its international lawyers and maritime law experts.

The tribunal “is conscious of its duty under the Rules of Procedure to conduct proceedings to avoid unnecessary delay and expense and to provide a fair and efficient process,” the statement said.

Should the court decide that it has jurisdiction over the case, it will then move on to the next phase, which is the hearing on the legal merits of the Philippines’ complaint.

Manila is asking the court to nullify China’s far-reaching claims in the waters, known internationally as the South China Sea, saying such assertion encroaches on Philippine sovereignty and rights under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The court also asked the Philippines to submit “further written responses” until July 23 to questions raised by the five-member arbitration body.

China, which did not participate in the hearings, was also given an opportunity to comment in writing until Aug. 17, 2015 regarding the oral arguments.

A transcript of the entire proceedings was provided by the court to China to ensure transparency, even as it has declared several times that it does not accept Manila’s case.

“Before making its award, the arbitral tribunal must satisfy itself not only that it has jurisdiction over the dispute but also that the claim is well founded in fact and in law,” the PCA said.

In line with its duty under Article 5 of Annex VII to the UNCLOS, the court said it must "assure each party a full opportunity to be heard and to present its case.”

The Philippines brought its maritime disputes with China before international arbitration in January 2013 following a dangerous maritime standoff in the Scarborough Shoal, which lies 124 nautical miles from the Philippine province of Masinloc, Zambales and 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest land mass of Hainan province.

China, which objects to any third-party intervention on the sea disputes, said it will not recognize any decision that will arise from the Philippine case.

Scarborough, seized by China after the standoff in 2012, is known in the Philippines as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc, but called Huangyan Island by the Chinese.

In April 2012, Manila and Beijing were locked in a standoff when Chinese vessels prevented Philippine authorities from arresting Chinese fishermen poaching in the shoal, situated well within the Philippine 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as allowed by the UN treaty.

Even before the standoff, the Philippines has repeatedly accused China of intruding into its territorial waters, disrupting its oil exploration and harassing its fishermen.

Beijing also moved to cement its claim in the sea by rapidly reclaiming seven formerly submerged and contested reefs into man-made islands, defying protests from other claimants and countries like United States, Japan and those from the European Union.

China insists ownership of almost 90 percent of the South China Sea, including areas that overlap with the Philippines’ and other Asian nations’ territories.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the waters– a major trading route teeming with rich marine life and vast oil and mineral deposits.

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