EASTERN SAMAR – President Benigno Aquino III was elated by the reported decision of the arbitral tribunal in The Hague to take jurisdiction over its maritime entitlements against China in the West Philippine Sea.
Speaking to reporters, Aquino said the rule of law has prevailed and hoped that China will abide by its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“Napakatuwa natin na sinabi nitong tribunal na ito na mayroon nga silang jurisdiction. At sa press release na nabasa ko kanina, inaasahan na ‘yung pangalawang mga tanong ay baka magkaroon na sila ng desisyon as early as next year,” he said.
“Mabilis ang kilos, medyo masalimuot ang talakayan dito, pero masasabi natin na talagang sino ba naman ang hindi matutuwa na parang talagang umiiral ang tinatawag na rule of law.”
The UNCLOS, to which both the Philippines and China are signatories, sets a coastal country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. It also provides 12 nautical miles sovereign territory from a coast.
Washington recently angered Beijing when one of its ships, the USS Lassen, made a sail-by within 12 nautical miles of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea.
The US said it was part of the country’s activities promoting freedom of navigation. The world’s largest economy said it will launch more similar patrols in the future.
However, China said the move was a provocation.
With this initial legal victory, the Philippines is now expected to present arguments on the merits of the case before the Netherlands-based tribunal.
Aquino expects relations between the Philippines and China to improve despite the decision, saying it will clarify countries’ rights and entitlements.
“Kapag wala ng malabo o maliwanag yung ating mga dapat sundin, hindi ba magiging paraan ito para mas maging maayos ang ugnayan ng isat isa?” he said.
He is hoping that the decision would not prompt Chinese President Xi Jinping to skip the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila this November, saying that the dispute is not the sum total of the two countries’ relations.
Aquino is also expected to raise again the issue of the terrotorial disputes when Southeast Asian leaders meet with their dialogue partners, including China, in the ASEAN summit in Malaysia.
China rejects the Hague’s decision
Beijing insists it will not take part in nor will it accept the case, now being heard in the Hague.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin says that the case will not affect China’s claims to disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.
Instead, the Chinese Foreign Ministry is urging the Philippines to resume talks to resolve the dispute.
The ministry’s spokesman Lu Kang also encourages all parties to follow the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, signed in 2002 to maintain peace and stability in the region
Lu dismissed protests raised by other countries as “pseudo-propositions,” adding the situation in the area is generally stable.