January 24, 2013

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Thursday said the arbitral tribunal is the “best venue” to resolve the country’s territorial dispute with China with the latter standing pat on its nine-dash claim of the South China Sea.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the legal track is one of the three tracks being taken by the Philippines to address the dispute: political, diplomatic, and legal.

“How does one resolve a situation where they are firm and stubborn in claiming a nine-dash line theory that does not exist in international law? So the best venue is to go to an arbitral tribunal, a third party where the rule of law and the rules-based approach to resolve the disputes can be made,” Lacierda said.

The Palace rejected China’s desire to have disputes settled through negotiations, expressing disappointment over the establishment of the Sansha prefecture that administers the island groups in the South China Sea including the Spratlys and a report that Chinese law enforcers have been authorized to board ships plying the South China Sea.

“What exactly dialogue? We say something, we hear from Guangzhou, we hear from Beijing, and they set up
Sansha. We have filed several diplomatic protests. That’s the approach we have taken,” Lacierda said.

China earlier said a request by the Philippines for a UN tribunal to intervene in its longstanding South China Sea territorial dispute with China would only complicate the issue.

Manila has asked the tribunal of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to order a halt to China’s activities that the Philippines says violates the Southeast Asian nation’s sovereignty.

China’s claims over islands, reefs and atolls in resource-rich waters off its south coast and to the east of mainland Southeast Asia set it directly against Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.

Asked about the Philippines’ move, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said its southern neighbor was occupying some of China’s islands in the South China Sea.

“China has consistently opposed the Philippines’ illegal occupation,” he told a daily news briefing.

China supports talks, but only on a bilateral basis with the countries directly involved, as previously agreed on by China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Hong added.

“We hope that the relevant country honors its promises, and … does not take any action to complicate or expand the problem,” he said, without elaborating.

It was not clear how the tribunal could help. While all its decisions are binding on countries concerned, it has no power to enforce them.

US to “defend” Philippines

The Obama administration’s decision to focus the deployment of US military forces to Asia will help secure the Philippines, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

In a briefing on Wednesday for US and Philippine businessmen led by former US Ambassador to the Philippines
John Negroponte and tycoon Manuel Pangilinan, del Rosario said that as the sole treaty ally of the Philippines, the US is the country’s strongest partner in defense and security.

The Obama administration’s “Asia Pivot” assures peace and stability in the region, the DFA said in a statement
Thursday after the briefing.

It added that the Philippine-US alliance allows Manila to develop a “minimum credible defense posture” involving maritime awareness and deterrence through joint training exercises between troops of the 2 countries.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Cesar Purisima (Finance) and Gregory Domingo (Trade and Industry) also attended the briefing for US-Philippines Society chairpersons Negroponte and Pangilinan.

Del Rosario said the Aquino administration has 3 foreign policy objectives: enhancing national security, promoting economic diplomacy and protecting Filipinos overseas.

The briefing also discussed the latest developments in the West Philippine Sea, specifically the “notification and statement of claim” filed by the Philippines against China.

Del Rosario expressed hope that “the peaceful and friendly approach to the legal option would provide the durable solution to this dispute.”

The DFA did not say if specific questions were made by Pangilinan, who chairs Philex Mining that has a contract to explore for oil and gas in disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.

– With reports from Reuters

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