The Philippines will unilaterally bring its Scarborough Shoal dispute with China to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos) in spite of Beijing’s rejection of the move, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday.
In a text message from Washington, D.C., Del Rosario said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was “currently making the necessary preparations” for the presentation of the conflict to Itlos, based in Hamburg, Germany.
He said that bringing the issue to the court, established on Dec. 10, 1982, by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), was the “legitimate way of dealing with conflicting and overlapping claims” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“The whole world knows that China has myriad more ships and aircraft than the Philippines. At day’s end, however, we hope to demonstrate that international law would be the great equalizer,” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met with their US counterparts in Washington on Monday during which the United States announced that it was staying neutral in the territorial conflict between Beijing and Manila.
On Sunday, the Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing had turned down Manila’s call for an international mediation to resolve the maritime dispute and demanded respect for China’s sovereignty over the shoal.
Diplomatic experts say the Philippine case in Itlos would not prosper if Beijing refused to participate in the arbitration.
Call for global protests
Filipino-American civic leader Loida Nicolas-Lewis on Wednesday called on Filipinos to mount a global rally against Chinese incursions in the cluster of reefs and islands 270 kilometers west of Zambales province. Philippine authorities call the area alternatively as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.
The US Pinoys for Good Governance, chaired by Lewis, is mobilizing rallies in front of Chinese embassies and consulates in Manila and key cities in the United States, Canada, Australia and other Asian countries on May 11 to pressure Beijing into abandoning the shoal.
“This is a matter of Philippine sovereignty. Somebody is stepping on our shore. We should tell them, ‘Get out,’” Lewis said, calling on Filipinos, as well as Philippine-loving citizens, to join the protests.
Lewis, who is leading the rally in New York, said the Philippines had exercised jurisdiction over the shoal since the 17th century, and effectively owned it.
“I’m totally aghast that something that has been effectively under the jurisdiction of the Philippines is being claimed by China. If it’s claiming to be a world power, it should be the first one to follow international law,’’ she told reporters at Makati City’s Rockwell Center.
The rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Makati City is set at noon of May 11.
Similar rallies are being organized in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Houston; Toronto and Vancouver in Canada; Sydney in Australia, as well as in some Asian cities on the same day, Lewis said.
“We’re still talking to Filipino groups in Germany, Italy, Japan and also Thailand,” she said, adding that the idea was for Filipinos to put pressure on China to leave Scarborough Shoal.
As for the possible impact of the protests on Beijing, she said: “You know China is also Asian. They could lose face.”
Chinese-Filipino businessman Jackson Kan said Beijing would be forced to react if 500,000 Filipinos massed in front of its consulate in Makati, but said: “We don’t need them to react. We need an international community.”
“If we can call on everybody just to stand up on May 11, we can make a dent in the international community,” he said.
Akbayan party-list spokesperson Risa Hontiveros, who is leading the rally in Makati City, said Beijing could not ignore protests like this.
“With this expression of public opinion, China will realize … that it would be a costly mistake to continue bullying and thumbing its nose,” Hontiveros said. “Being an emerging global power, they can’t afford to be a rogue state.”
But should the global rally fail, Lewis said US-based Filipinos would link up with nationalities of other Southeast Asian countries with claims on the disputed Spratly Islands to bring the matter to the United Nations.
“We will try to get the Vietnamese-Americans, Malaysian-Americans, Indonesian-Americans, and all the countries to stage a rally once the Philippines has formally filed a complaint in the UN tribunal on the law of the sea. Then we will have a united front,” she said.