MANILA, Philippines – The arbitral tribunal hearing of the territorial dispute case brought by the Philippines against China has officially begun, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced Tuesday.
DFA assistant secretary Raul Hernandez told reporters that a draft set of rules to govern the proceedings has been approved and has been sent to both the Philippines and China for their views.
“The Philippine Government is pleased that the Arbitral Tribunal is now formally constituted, and that the arbitration process has begun,” Hernandez said.
On the first meeting of the Tribunal last July 11, it “approved a draft set of Rules of Procedure to govern the proceedings and sent it to the parties for their comments which were requested by August 5, 2013,” he said.
The Philippines will be represented by lawyer Paul Reichler as lead counsel while the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) will be headed by the government’s representative.
“The DFA and the OSG have pledged their fullest cooperation with the Tribunal, in order to assure a fair, impartial and efficient process that produces a final and binding judgment in conformity with international law,” Hernandez said.
The Philippines has filed a complaint before the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (Unclos) against China over several cases of intrusion into the country’s exclusive economic zone by its navy and fishing vessels.
China claims the entire South China Sea including the West Philippine Sea as part of its territory and has been sending Maritime Surveillance and fishing ships into Philippine waters, particularly in Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag Shoal or Scarborough Shoal).
The DFA previously said that China was taking a hard-line stance against the Philippines which made bilateral talks with Beijing almost impossible.
China has also previously stated that it does not want to participate in third-party arbitration proceedings, insisting bilateral talks.
When asked what would happen to the arbitration proceedings if China refuses to submit comments, Hernandez said that the case will proceed.
“With or without China’s comments, the case will proceed,” he said.
“If they really do not comment then our pleadings will take prominence in the case but having said that the judges will still look at the merits of the whole case,” Hernandez said.
The DFA reiterated that China’s territorial claim over the entire sea is illegal and against the Unclos.
“We brought this case because we feel that we have a big advantage considering the provisions of international law particularly Unclos,” Hernandez said.
“It has always been our position that the 9-dash line claim of China has been expansive, excessive, and illegal as far as the international law is concerned,” he said.