Jardeleza at Harvard: ‘Majesty of the law’ is PH weapon vs China in sea row
MANILA, Philippines—“What kind of people do they think we are?”
Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza stressed that the Philippines was no pushover as he asserted the country’s claim to a South China Sea territory and its right to seek international arbitration to resolve its dispute with China.
In a keynote speech at the forum on “Borders and Cross-Border Enforcement” at Harvard Law School, Jardeleza reiterated the Philippines’ resolve to follow the rule of law against China’s excessive claims in the resource-rich waters.
“To that question, we Filipinos have a ready answer: We may be a small nation, but we come from a proud race. We may have less in armament, but we have a mighty weapon, the majesty of the law. With this self-defense instrument, we thus have sought to bring China to arbitration,” said Jardeleza, who addressed the forum at his alma mater on Feb. 27.
At the time, Jardeleza, who was the solicitor general before being appointed to the Supreme Court, was still the Philippine agent in the arbitration case before the United Nations tribunal.
He relinquished this role on March 2, passing it on to Acting Solicitor General Florin Hilbay.
The government will be filing on Monday a supplemental submission to the UN body, in response to the tribunal’s request for a “further written argument” from the Philippines after China issued a position paper on the case even as it refused to formally take part in the proceedings.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, overlapping with ownership claims of Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines, which calls part of the ocean waters the West Philippine Sea.
In his speech, Jardeleza reiterated that China’s claim was illegal. “China’s grand claim to cover almost the entire South China Sea, and all the maritime features therein, has no basis in international law,” he said.
In contrast, he said, the Philippines’ bid for arbitration, which invoked a remedy under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), was an act that was faithful to international law.
“Our decision to turn to arbitration, as a remedy provided by international law, proceeds from our unshakeable belief in the rule of law even on cross-border matters. If we have a written constitution governing the use of our oceans, then surely, we, as nations using principled argumentation, can peacefully settle differences in interpretation and application,” he said.
Jardeleza criticized China’s insistence to be excluded from the arbitration process.
“China has so far refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings despite continuous and many invitations from the tribunal. Again we ask: Under a regime of law, wouldn’t the world be better off if China contributed to the argumentation, so that by its reasoned elaboration, it could enlighten everyone on the legal bases for its ambitious claim over almost all of the South China Sea?” he said.
Beijing must comply
Jardeleza said the arbitration case was a “rare opportunity” for China to engage in dialogue not just with the arbitration panel “but, in a larger sense, with all of mankind.”
Addressing the question of whether China would comply with a ruling favorable to the Philippines, Jardeleza said the largest of the claimant nations in the South China Sea dispute was “legally obliged to comply with the ruling.”
He reminded Beijing that ignoring such a ruling would be a “clear and open violation of its international legal obligations.”
“This, with all due respect, is a matter China should consider, mindful of its international prestige and influence. We would, of course, prefer China to present itself as a responsible and law-abiding member of the international community, and thus abide by an international arbitral award,” he said.
“This decision should be viewed by the rest of the world as fair and just. More particularly, the award will be reflective of the established rules of international law,” Jardeleza said.
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