House lawmakers support arbitration case vs China

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

THE House leadership on Thursday expressed belief that the decision of the Aquino administration to pursue the arbitration case against Beijing regarding the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is not a hostile act but a "mechanism" for Manila's side to be heard.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said that raising the issue before the United Nations (UN) International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) via the recent filing of a memorial (written argument) only means that the country is resolving the crisis "amicably."

The Philippine government filed a memorial consisting of 10 volumes and 4,000 pages, including 40 maps. It was submitted electronically to the UN tribunal on Sunday, the deadline for submission, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"Going to the UN is not a hostile act. It is in fact a mechanism where a small country's side can be heard. Otherwise, the mighty like China can just do anything it wants with its power behind it," Belmonte said.

Belmonte said the memorial contains all the legal bases and justifications of the Philippines' territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.

On Thursday, more legislators including Representatives Lito Atienza (Buhay party-list), Jonathan dela Cruz (Abakada party-list), Winston Castelo (Quezon City), Sherwin Gatchalian (Valenzuela), and Walden Bello and Barry Gutierrez (Akbayan party-list) support the recent move by the Aquino administration and are all united in their stand that all sectors should rally behind the filing of the 4,000-page memorial before Itlos.

Atienza, a former Manila mayor, said that all historical records, including the oldest maps during the Spanish period will show that disputed islands are part of Philippine territory.

"We must show that Filipinos are united in this cause of protecting what is rightfully ours. Our country's vast natural resources should be protected and properly managed to benefit all Filipinos, specially our future generations," Atienza said.

Dela Cruz, for his part, said that the government should continue to assert its sovereign rights over the disputed waters, though he urged President Benigno Aquino III to refrain from resorting to any action that may further aggravate China's anger against the Philippines.

"We should try to lower decibel of a word war and work out dialogue and ventures," said dela Cruz.

Gatchalian supported dela Cruz's statement but insisted that China should face the arbitration case instead of wrongly accusing the country that it is provoking conflict.

"We should urge China to take on the case regarding the West Philippine Sea dispute that we filed with the UN... this will help ease the escalating tension between the Philippines and China. Diplomacy is crucial to managing disputes and achieving peace," he said.

Meanwhile, Castelo dismissed threats of reprisals from China since the move to bring to international forum the issue is necessary.

"China can impose whatever economic and political reprisals it wishes to impose about our claim of sovereignty to the exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, but we will always seek what is generally accepted way to settle the issue under the international law," Castelo said.

The case received strong criticism from China, which is pushing for bilateral negotiations in finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Even if China were to remove the Navy ship from Ayungin shoal and build yet another artificial island there, it will never acquire ownership over the area since acquisition of territory through conquest is against international law, a law professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) said.

"China also better rethink whether it should tow-away a commissioned naval vessel. Derelict as it may be, it is subject to full sovereign immunity and any attempt to tow it away from Ayungin may finally trigger the applicability of the US-Phil Mutual Defense Treaty," said lawyer Harry Roque.

He said an attack against the Philippine vessel may be a "sufficient" reason for the US to intervene.

Fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), meanwhile, asked the Philippines and China to pull out their respective troops in the disputed waters and allow their fishermen to resume fishing as prelude to bilateral talks. (Sunnex)

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