Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Threat to Sierra Madre investigated

From The Standard (Jul 12): Threat to Sierra Madre investigated

A DAY before a UN arbitration court releases its ruling on the West Philippine Sea dispute, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is verifying reports that China is out to destroy the BRP Sierra Madre in response to the ruling in The Hague.

Refusing to comment further, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said that they will confirm reports that a defense ministry spokesman in Beijing had said they would “sink or tow” the Sierra Madre, which was purposely grounded on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

“We’ll try to check the veracity of the report,” Jose said.

In response to the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal, a commentary by a Chinese defense spokesman published in the official People’s Daily said that although Beijing has been exercising patience over the issue, it is committed to defending its so-called 9-dash line territory.

“The story of the Renai Shoal [shows] China is fully capable of dragging away that Philippine vessel hanging in there,” People’s Daily said. “But for the stability of the South China Sea, China offers goodwill and patience and has always shown high restraint.”

China was, however, committed to defending every inch of its territory, the commentary said.Since 1999, the Philippine Navy grounded an old US-built landing craft on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

The ship is occupied by a dozen military personnel.

The shoal in the Spratly Islands chain is also claimed by China, which calls it the Renai Shoal.

China has repeatedly asked for the craft to be removed but the Philippines has refused, triggering a Chinese blockade of the shoal in 2014.

A group of Filipino activists called “Kalayaan Atin Ito” has been on a voyage to the disputed areas of the South China Sea to show China that some islands there belong to the Philippines.

“We are not nationalists, we are patriots. We have to do something to show the Filipino people that this belongs to us so we can continue to travel there and our fishermen can fish there, like they have always done,” Kalayaan’s coordinator Vera Joy Ban-eg said.

On Tuesday, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will hand down its final ruling on the case brought by the Philippines asking the international court to invalidate China’s nine-dash line policy, a horse-shaped line found in old Chinese maps supposedly showing Beijing’s territory in the West Philippine Sea.

The case has been a three-year battle since the Philippines lodged its case in January 2013 before the Arbitral Tribunal.

In a recent television interview, political analyst Richard Heydarian said most legal experts agree that the Philippines will likely win the arbitration case.

He also said that assuming the verdict is favorable to the Philippines, it would be appropriate if President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration would release a strong statement about complying with the ruling.

“We hope we can get the court to nullify China’s nine-dash line claims of course, and, at least, critique China’s reclamation activities by clarifying the nature of disputed land features, most of which are atolls and low tide elevations that can’t be occupied if beyond your exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” Heydarian told GMA News.

“A favorable verdict and strong statement by Duterte administration will provide perfect justification for more aggressive American-led freedom of navigation operations in the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea], but it could ignite wider conflict,” the De La Salle University professor and book author said.

By 11 a.m. (The Hague time), the Permanent Court of Arbitration will issue the award first to the parties through their electronic mail, along with an accompanying press release containing a summary of the award.

“The press release will be in English and French, with an unofficial Mandarin Chinese translation provided,” Jose said, citing the process of the verdict today.

After the international court sends the award to both parties, the Arbitration will then send the copies to all observer states and distribution lists, and members of the public and media who have registed their interest in the case.

Also on Monday, Jose said the Philippines has insisted that the West Philippine Sea be discussed at a major summit between Asian and European leaders in Mongolia at the end of the week.

On Tuesday, a militant fishermen’s group, Pamalakaya-Pilipinas, will stage a protest in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati, just as the UN tribunal releases its verdict.


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