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Execs going to Hague with ‘head high’

MANILA, Philippines–The Philippines is confident it has a “strong case” against China in the legal battle for sovereignty in the South China Sea before a United Nations arbitral tribunal, members of the 12-man delegation said on Saturday.

“The team essentially prepared a strong case. We believe that we stand on firm legal ground and we hope that the tribunal will look at our position with favor,” deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said over government-run Radyo ng Bayan.

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Valte is part of a large top-level government delegation headed to The Hague to observe the oral arguments to be conducted by the UN arbitral committee from July 7 to 13 on whether or not the court has jurisdiction over the petition filed by the Philippines against China.

The delegation is led by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

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Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Undersecretary Emmanuel Bautista, executive director of the Cabinet security cluster, were also dispatched by President Aquino to observe the proceedings at the tribunal.

‘Round one victory’

“I go to The Hague with my head held high, knowing that ours is a principled position based on the rule of international law and upholding of national sovereignty and dignity as a nation,” De Lima told the Inquirer when reached by phone.

“A round one victory will be sweet enough and will be a positive sign for the Philippines’ cause,” De Lima said.

“I’m confident the Philippines will be able to hurdle the jurisdictional issue which will be the focus of next week’s hearings,” she added.

Also part of the delegation as observers are Senate President Franklin Drilon, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Francis Jardeleza, and Sandiganbayan Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez.

Solicitor General Florin Hilbay will argue the Philippines’ case before the tribunal, in conjunction with the American lawyers retained by the Philippine government.

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Jardeleza said he could not comment on the coming proceedings but urged Filipinos to rally behind the case.

Filipinos’ support

“As former Philippine agent for this arbitration which was filed during my watch as solicitor general, I hope for the best possible outcome for the country. All Filipinos should support our lawful and rightful cause,” Jardeleza told the Inquirer.

Jardeleza led the Philippine legal team pursuing the case against China until March 2 of this year, when he turned it over to Hilbay some seven months after his appointment to the Supreme Court.

Hilbay did not give a comment about the hearings except to say that he was “on the way to The Hague.”

In a speech at the Harvard Law School in February, Jardeleza said the Philippines was no pushover even while facing a military power such as China, asserting that Beijing’s claim over almost all of the South China Sea “has no basis in international law.”

Jardeleza left for The Hague at 1 a.m. Saturday, around the same time Hilbay also took off for the Netherlands. It was unclear whether they were on same flight.

De Lima is set to fly out Monday evening.

Nine-dash line

China has snubbed the tribunal, saying it would not participate in any of its proceedings. Beijing has insisted it has sovereignty over nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea, following its so-called nine-dash line, which is one of the issues raised by the Philippines before the court.

“While some people say that it’s merely a jurisdictional issue, if the tribunal sees that it has no jurisdiction, then we cannot proceed. We cannot even present the merits of our case. But we are confident of the Philippine position in this matter,” Valte said.

While some experts think it is not necessary for President Aquino to dispatch almost his entire Cabinet security cluster to The Hague, Malacañang defended the move by saying it was a show of support, emphasizing a national effort.

Valte said that once the delegation was complete in Amsterdam, they would have a briefing “for everyone.”

She said that the delegation would share with the public as much information as it could while they were at The Hague.

“We will be sending daily bulletins upon clearance of the executive secretary at the end of this hearing… At the end of each hearing day, we’ll try to get as much information about the hearings, as we will be allowed to share with you,” Valte said.

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TAGS: Abigail Valte, China, Leila de Lima, Philippine delegation, Philippines, South China Sea, territorial dispute, UN, UN arbitral tribunal
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