PH EXPANDS TERRITORIAL CLAIM INCLUDES AYUNGIN; MEMO SUBMITTED TO U.N. COURT

The Philippines, saying it was “defending what is legitimately ours,” filed Sunday a memorandum in the United Nations arbitration court on its territorial dispute with China, expanding its claim to include Ayungin Shoal, the current scene of confrontation between Manila and Beijing. True to its word, the government met the deadline for submission of its memorandum, or memorial, which discussed its position that the arbitral tribunal has jurisdiction over all the claims made by Manila in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). And from identifying eight West Philippine Sea shoals and reefs that form part of the Philippine territory that China has allegedly illegally occupied, the memorial included Ayungin Shoal in its statement of claim. “The memorial presents the Philippines’ case on the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal and the merits of its claims,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said at a news conference. “With firm conviction, the ultimate purpose of the memorial is our national interest. It is about defending what is legitimately ours. It is about securing our children’s future. It is about guaranteeing freedom of navigation for all nations. It is about helping to preserve regional peace, security and stability. And finally, it is about seeking not just any kind of resolution but a just and durable solution [based] on international law,” Del Rosario said. He said it was “unknown” whether China would pursue its avowed policy of not taking part in the proceedings. Under its rules, he said, the arbitral tribunal will decide on the next action and advise the concerned parties accordingly. The memorial consists of 10 volumes and contained nearly 4,000 pages, including 40 maps, he said. It was submitted electronically to the UN tribunal on Sunday—the deadline for submission—and hard copies will be sent Monday, he said.

ALSO: 'US may act if China tows Philippine ship'

The dilapidated navy ship LT57 BRP Sierra Madre is home to the fresh batch of Philippine Marines at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal (local name Ayungin Shoal) Sunday, March 30, 2014 off the South China Sea. On Saturday, China Coast Guard attempted to block the Philippine government vessel AM700 carrying fresh troops and supplies, but the latter successfully managed to docked beside the ship to replace troops who were deployed for five months. China cannot tow the stranded Philippine Navy vessel BRP Sierra Madre from the disputed Ayungin Shoal as this can be considered as an attack under the United States-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, a Filipino expert in international law said. University of the Philippines College of Law professor Harry Roque explained that the US cannot be involved in ongoing disputes of the country with China, but the Philippine ally may act once the decrepit World War II ship is assailed by foreign military. "China also better rethink whether it should tow-away a commissioned naval vessel," Roque said in a statement Thursday, following reports that China is offering to remove the ship serving as the Philippines' military outpost on the shoal. "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 Defence Treaty," he added. Roque noted that the standoffs between Chinese and Philippine civilian vessels in the West Philippine Sea are not covered by the 1951 accord. "But an attack against a Philippine commissioned naval vessel may be sufficient for the purpose. The result: the West Philippine Sea, unless China backs off, may trigger the biggest armed conflict in the region since the Vietnam and Indo-China conflict,' he said. The Indochina Wars, which include the American War in Vietnam, were fought from 1946 to 1989.

ALSO: China: PH tarnishing Beijing’s international image

China on Thursday accused the Philippines of “abuse of process” in seeking United Nations arbitration to settle disputes in the South China Sea, calling Manila’s move a “smear campaign” to tarnish Beijing’s image in the international community.
China blamed the Philippines for the maritime dispute, insisting yet again that it has sovereignty over the territories and reiterating it has a “solid historic[al] and legal basis” for its claim, playing down the relative proximity of some of the islands to the Philippines’ western coast. “The Philippines’ arbitration proceeding completely confuses right and wrong, distorts the fact and diverts attentions. The aim of its move is to cover up the illegal nature of [the] Philippines’ infringement and provocative behavior by the abuse of process against China, and to defraud the international community of its sympathy and support,” Chinese Embassy spokesperson Zhang Hua said in a 12-page statement. No comment from DFA
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) declined to comment on China’s diatribe. On Wednesday, DFA spokesman Charles Jose said President Aquino had already spoken on the matter and that it had nothing to add to the Chief Executive’s statement. Speaking at the Philippine National Police Academy graduation at Camp Mariano Castañeda in Silang town, Cavite province, on Monday, Aquino said the Philippines, by going for UN arbitration to settle the dispute, was “not challenging” or “provoking” China, but “defending” the country’s “own interest.”

ALSO: China warned: Don’t try to tow away BRP Sierra Madre

China was warned Thursday against trying to tow away the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, as this could be considered an attack against the Philippines and prompt the United States to defend the country in keeping with their Mutual Defense Treaty. And should this happen, international law expert and University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque said, the result could be a war in Asia.
“The result: the West Philippine Sea [dispute], unless China backs off, may trigger the biggest armed conflict in the region since the Vietnam and Indochina conflict,” Roque said in a statement. Roque noted that the Sierra Madre has always been described as a “derelict,” but the government recently described it as a “commissioned naval vessel.”
A statement released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on March 14 said, “The BRP Sierra Madre, a commissioned Philippine naval vessel, was placed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent Philippine government installation in response to China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) in 1995.”
The Philippines says Ayungin Shoal is part of its continental shelf, over which it has “sovereign rights and jurisdiction” and by pointing that the Sierra Madre is a commissioned ship, the government “really wants to trigger the applicability of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Roque said. That is why China should “rethink” any plans to tow away the Sierra Madre, he said.


ALSO: UN case not a challenge to China—Aquino

SILANG, Cavite—President Aquino on Monday said the government’s decision to pursue the arbitration case in a United Nations tribunal was not intended to provoke China but to defend Philippine territory peacefully. The President said filing the case in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) was consistent with the country’s policy to resolve the territorial dispute through peaceful means “in conformity with international law.” “We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action,” he said after leading the 35th commencement exercises at the Philippine National Police Academy here. “But I do believe that they should recognize [that] we have the right to defend our own interests.” Speaking a day after the government submitted to the Itlos a 4,000-page “memorial” detailing its case, the President said defending a country’s territorial integrity was something Beijing would have done too if it were the Philippines. Aquino said he “cannot tell the Chinese government what to do” when asked about the possibility of Beijing harassing Philippine vessels even more following the filing of the memorial.
“If they were in our position, on the reverse, would they have acted differently?” he asked. “Under different conditions, they are the smaller country, they are the less military-capable, they have interests, will they willingly just forgo their interests here? I don’t think so.” The President paid “special tribute” to the team of soldiers that managed to evade a Chinese blockade and replace the Marine troops stationed at a grounded Philippine Navy ship on Ayungin Shoal.PHOTO: KEEPING CLOSE WATCH. Chinese Coast Guard ships closely monitor a small Philippine vessel during resupply and troop rotation in the rusting BRP Sierra Madre. PHOTO BY GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE...READ MORE...


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PH expands claim to include Ayungin


PLAYTIME. Philippine Marines, who have been staying for almost five months aboard the Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal, pose for a local television news crew. A China Coast Guard ship earlier tried to block a vessel that brought supplies and replacement troops on Saturday. AP

MANILA, APRIL 7, 2014 (INQUIRER) By Christine O. Avendaño - Memorial submitted to UN arbitral court. The Philippines, saying it was “defending what is legitimately ours,” filed Sunday a memorandum in the United Nations arbitration court on its territorial dispute with China, expanding its claim to include Ayungin Shoal, the current scene of confrontation between Manila and Beijing.

True to its word, the government met the deadline for submission of its memorandum, or memorial, which discussed its position that the arbitral tribunal has jurisdiction over all the claims made by Manila in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

And from identifying eight West Philippine Sea shoals and reefs that form part of the Philippine territory that China has allegedly illegally occupied, the memorial included Ayungin Shoal in its statement of claim.

“The memorial presents the Philippines’ case on the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal and the merits of its claims,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said at a news conference.

“With firm conviction, the ultimate purpose of the memorial is our national interest. It is about defending what is legitimately ours. It is about securing our children’s future. It is about guaranteeing freedom of navigation for all nations.

It is about helping to preserve regional peace, security and stability. And finally, it is about seeking not just any kind of resolution but a just and durable solution [based] on international law,” Del Rosario said.

He said it was “unknown” whether China would pursue its avowed policy of not taking part in the proceedings. Under its rules, he said, the arbitral tribunal will decide on the next action and advise the concerned parties accordingly.

The memorial consists of 10 volumes and contained nearly 4,000 pages, including 40 maps, he said. It was submitted electronically to the UN tribunal on Sunday—the deadline for submission—and hard copies will be sent Monday, he said.

Del Rosario and Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza declined to discuss the contents of the memorial, including recent incidents of alleged Chinese harassment, until given by the arbitral tribunal the go-signal to do so.

Jardeleza, who attended the news conference, said the government amended early last month its statement of claim to include Ayungin Shoal.

“It’s similar to the claims we’ve made that Ayungin Shoal is within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines,” Jardeleza said.

Manila has protested Beijing’s attempts to prevent the Philippines from providing supplies and rotating troops stationed at Ayungin Shoal.

9 shoals illegally occupied

With the inclusion of Ayungin Shoal in its statement of claim, the Philippines now says that China has illegally occupied nine reefs and shoals. The others are Mischief Reef, McKennan Reef, Subi Reef, Gaven Reef, Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef and Fiery Cross Reef.

Asked whether the tribunal could enforce its decision, Jardeleza said, “The Philippines has always taken the position that China as a member of the community of nations is bound legally to accept and implement it.”

“We hope we can get a favorable decision on this,” he said.

Jardeleza also said the government was hopeful that other Asian claimants to the South China Sea would “take a similar position like us.”

In a statement, Vice President Jejomar Binay praised Navy and Marines stationed at Ayungin Shoal for asserting the country’s sovereignty and rights.

“Despite our dispute with China, I am still confident that we can transcend the problem and remain steadfast friends with the global community based on mutual respect and the rule of law,” Binay said in a statement.

The Philippines took its territorial dispute with China to international arbitration in January 2013 after Chinese government ships took control of a disputed shoal off the northwestern Philippines. They asked the tribunal to declare China’s claims to about 80 percent of the strategic waters and Beijing’s seizure of eight shoals and reefs illegal.

China to ignore court

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told a news conference on Wednesday that China would never accept nor participate in the international arbitration pushed by the Philippines.

While the Philippines has urged other claimants to join the case, none has so far publicly stepped forward. China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims across the busy South China Sea.

China has asked other claimants to settle the disputes through one-on-one negotiations, something that would give it advantage because of its sheer size and clout. It has also warned Washington not to get involved.

The disputes have periodically erupted into dangerous confrontations, sparking tensions and straining ties.

In the latest incident, a Philippine government ship slipped past a Chinese Coast Guard blockade on Saturday and brought food and fresh troops to a Navy ship marooned on Second Thomas Shoal and used as a base by Filipino troops to bolster the country’s territorial claims in the area.

The rocky outcrop is part of the Spratlys, a chain of islets and reefs that sits near key shipping lanes and is surrounded by rich fishing grounds. It is around 200 kilometers from Palawan province and about 1,100 km from the nearest major Chinese landmass.

In an interview over Radyo ng Bayan on Sunday, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma was mum on whether the latest harassment of a Filipino civilian vessel would strengthen the government’s case in the tribunal.

Only alternative

Coloma only said the government remained focused on using “diplomacy and peaceful means to resolve the issue.”
Senate President Franklin Drilon on Sunday expressed support for the government action. “This is our only alternative because in reality, China is a big country,” he said in an interview over dzBB.

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said President Aquino should summon China’s Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua. “The President should tell the Chinese ambassador that our government will not tolerate further aggressive acts,” he said.

Bello also suggested that the Philippine Air Force should deploy its P3 Orion aircraft based in Puerto Princesa to conduct a resupply mission and the Philippine Navy should beef up troops at the BRP Sierra Madre “to give China the message that we will defend Ayungin as part of our continental shelf.”—With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, TJ Burgonio, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., AP and AFP

FROM PHILSTAR

'US may act if China tows Philippine ship' By Camille Diola (philstar.com) | Updated April 4, 2014 - 11:43am 16 1589 googleplus0 0


The dilapidated navy ship LT57 BRP Sierra Madre is home to the fresh batch of Philippine Marines at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal (local name Ayungin Shoal) Sunday, March 30, 2014 off the South China Sea. On Saturday, China Coast Guard attempted to block the Philippine government vessel AM700 carrying fresh troops and supplies, but the latter successfully managed to docked beside the ship to replace troops who were deployed for five months. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — China cannot tow the stranded Philippine Navy vessel BRP Sierra Madre from the disputed Ayungin Shoal as this can be considered as an attack under the United States-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, a Filipino expert in international law said.

University of the Philippines College of Law professor Harry Roque explained that the US cannot be involved in ongoing disputes of the country with China, but the Philippine ally may act once the decrepit World War II ship is assailed by foreign military.

"China also better rethink whether it should tow-away a commissioned naval vessel," Roque said in a statement Thursday, following reports that China is offering to remove the ship serving as the Philippines' military outpost on the shoal.

"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 Defence Treaty," he added.

Roque noted that the standoffs between Chinese and Philippine civilian vessels in the West Philippine Sea are not covered by the 1951 accord.

"But an attack against a Philippine commissioned naval vessel may be sufficient for the purpose. The result: the West Philippine Sea, unless China backs off, may trigger the biggest armed conflict in the region since the Vietnam and Indo-China conflict,' he said. The Indochina Wars, which include the American War in Vietnam, were fought from 1946 to 1989.

Roque, the first Asian to be admitted practice in the International Criminal Court, said that neither China has title over Ayungin and similar maritime features in the contested region. It cannot also grab the territories through conquest, which is a direct violation of modern international principles.

In its position paper on the issue released Thursday, China accused the Philippines of "lying" when it said BRP Sierra Madre ran aground in 1999.

"The statement released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Philippines on March 14 openly stated that the vessel 'grounded' 15 years ago was actually meant to occupy the reef, which proves that the Philippine side has been lying for 15 years," the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines said in the statement.

China also demanded that the Philippines fulfills its commitment to remove the ship--a vow which the DFA denied making.

Last Sunday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario announced that the country's 4,000-page written pleading has been sent to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea to support its arbitration case against the Asian power.

FROM THE INQUIRER

China: PH tarnishing Beijing’s international image By Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:01 am | Friday, April 4th, 2014


A Philippine Marine gestures at a Chinese Coast Guard vessel which tries to block a Philippine Government vessel AM700 from approaching the Second Thomas Shoal (local name Ayungin Shoal) to resupply and replace fellow marines who were deployed for almost five months Saturday, March 29, 2014 off South China Sea on the West Philippine Sea. AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—China on Thursday accused the Philippines of “abuse of process” in seeking United Nations arbitration to settle disputes in the South China Sea, calling Manila’s move a “smear campaign” to tarnish Beijing’s image in the international community.

China blamed the Philippines for the maritime dispute, insisting yet again that it has sovereignty over the territories and reiterating it has a “solid historic[al] and legal basis” for its claim, playing down the relative proximity of some of the islands to the Philippines’ western coast.

“The Philippines’ arbitration proceeding completely confuses right and wrong, distorts the fact and diverts attentions. The aim of its move is to cover up the illegal nature of [the] Philippines’ infringement and provocative behavior by the abuse of process against China, and to defraud the international community of its sympathy and support,” Chinese Embassy spokesperson Zhang Hua said in a 12-page statement.

No comment from DFA

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) declined to comment on China’s diatribe.

On Wednesday, DFA spokesman Charles Jose said President Aquino had already spoken on the matter and that it had nothing to add to the Chief Executive’s statement.

Speaking at the Philippine National Police Academy graduation at Camp Mariano Castañeda in Silang town, Cavite province, on Monday, Aquino said the Philippines, by going for UN arbitration to settle the dispute, was “not challenging” or “provoking” China, but “defending” the country’s “own interest.”

Aquino spoke a day after the Philippines submitted its “memorial,” or memorandum, on the dispute to the UN arbitral tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, despite China’s warning that relations between the two countries would suffer.

On Tuesday, Chinese Chargé d’Affaires Sun Xiangyang told reporters in a no-questions news conference that the Philippines “seriously damaged” its relations with China by submitting the memorandum to the UN tribunal.

Not int’l litigation

Sun blasted Manila for “unilaterally” shutting the door to talks, as he reiterated that bilateral negotiations, not international litigation, should be the way to go.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario announced the submission of the memorandum in a rare Sunday news conference, something the Chinese Embassy in Manila noted.

“Recently, by submitting the memorial to the arbitral tribunal, the Philippine side has launched a media campaign to smear the Chinese side by playing up the South China Sea issue and the arbitration proceeding,” Zhang said. “All these willful acts exposed the real motive of the Philippines’ pushing for the arbitration proceeding.”

Zhang added: “No matter how the Philippine memorial is packaged, the direct cause of the disputes between China and the Philippines is the latter’s illegal occupation of some of China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea.”

Discoverer of Spratlys

Asserting the extent of the Chinese territory, Zhang said China was “the first to discover, name, develop and operate on the Nansha (Spratly) Islands” and “the first country that exercised and has been exercising sovereign jurisdiction over the islands” in the West Philippine Sea.

He said that China “never bullies other countries” and that “we stick to the principle of not to attack unless attacked.”
Beijing summoned Philippine Ambassador to China Erlinda Basilio on Monday to protest Manila’s proceeding with the arbitration case.

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told Basilio that China was “extremely dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the case the Philippines had brought to the UN arbitral tribunal and it would not participate, according to the Chinese foreign ministry website.

The DFA remained mum Thursday on the Chinese protest.

The Philippines and China are disputing ownership of Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a rich fishing ground off Zambales province, and a number of islands, islets, reefs and shoals in the Spratly archipelago.

Panatag, Ayungin standoffs

Manila brought the arbitration case in January last year after China seized Panatag Shoal after a two-month standoff between Philippine and Chinese Coast Guard vessels in mid-2012.

The Philippines amended its case to include Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the Spratlys after two attempts by China to stop resupply vessels from getting to the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting naval ship that the government grounded on the shoal in 1999 to mark Philippine territory in the archipelago where Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.

The arbitration case, a remedy the Philippines sought under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), seeks to nullify China’s claim over 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, including waters within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone called West Philippine Sea; clarify maritime boundaries in the area, and end Chinese incursions into the country’s economic exclusion zone.

Under the Unclos, nations enjoy exclusive sovereign rights to use natural resources within their economic exclusion zones and continental shelves.

The Philippines brought the case as a “last resort,” saying all attempts at negotiating with China had failed.

Zhang said that on the contrary, the Chinese side had always been open to talks, including through venues such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Code of conduct

Through the Asean, and with the backing of allies such as the United States, Australia and Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam are advocating for the immediate conclusion with China of a binding code of conduct to prevent the competing territorial claims from erupting into confrontations.

Asean and China have signed a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which provides for the maintenance of the status quo pending negotiations.

But China is not in a hurry to conclude a code of conduct with Asean, preferring bilateral talks with its rivals in which it can only prevail because of its military might and economic clout.

With the weakest military in the region and with no economic clout to speak of, the Philippines prefers to deal with China on the dispute through Asean and, as China is getting more aggressive in asserting its claim, the United Nations.

But Beijing insists that international arbitration will not resolve its dispute with the Philippines and will “not change the fact that China owns sovereignty” over the Spratlys and their adjacent waters, and will not change China’s policy of resolving South China Sea disputes “through direct negotiations.”

“The Philippine side willfully initiated the arbitration under Unclos regardless of China’s legal rights as a party to the Unclos, and ignoring the fact that the essence of the disputes between China and the Philippines is the territorial disputes caused by Philippines’ illegal occupation of the islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands,” Zhang said.

‘Excessive declaration’

“The real purpose of the Philippine side’s attack on the South China Sea dashed lines (the nine dashes on official Chinese maps showing China’s claim over nearly the whole sea) is to attempt to deny China’s sovereignty over Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, and cover up the illegality of the Philippines’ occupation of some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands, which the Chinese side will never accept,” Zhang said.

Zhang cited meetings between the Asean and China last year for the full implementation of the declaration of code of conduct and consultations on the proposed code of conduct as a reflection of the “utmost goodwill and sincerity of Chinese side’s continuous commitment to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

The Philippines said last year that China only agreed to consult, not negotiate, on the code of conduct. Beijing criticized Manila for trying to rush the code.

Manila maintains that China’s claim in the South China Sea is an “excessive declaration” of its maritime entitlements, as it encroaches into territories closer to the Philippines than the Chinese coast.

Earlier this year, the United States also issued its categorical rejection of the Chinese claim.

PH seized islands

But Zhang insisted it was the other way around, saying it was the Philippines that seized Chinese islands in the South China Sea.

“China has never thought of taking the Philippine territory. It is actually the Philippines that occupies China’s islands and reefs. Some people believe that these islands and reefs are closer to the Philippines, and therefore they belong to the Philippines. This has no basis in international law,” Zhang said.

“Geographical proximity has never been a criterion that determines the ownership of territory. Many countries in the world possess territories far away from their mainland or closer to other countries. All countries, big or small, should abide by the rules and stick to the truth,” he said.

Zhang said China had long been exercising sovereignty over the South China Sea until the Philippines initiated “military operations” in the Spratlys in 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1980.

“This is the most fundamental and direct cause of relevant disputes in the South China Sea between the two countries,” he said.

“As for what has happened in the South China Sea in recent years, all were provoked by the Philippines,” said Zhang, citing the 2012 standoff at Panatag Shoal and the grounding of the BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal in 1999.

He said the Philippines “once clearly stated that Panatag Shoal “is not within its territory.”

As for Ayungin Shoal, Zhang reiterated China’s belief that the Philippine resupply vessel that was driven away from the shoal by the Chinese Coast Guard on March 9 was carrying “rebar and cement in order to reinforce the facilities on the reef.”

Zhang again called on the Philippines to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin, saying the Philippine side promised to remove the ship 15 years ago.

“The sitting Philippine government was not the one 15 years ago, but as a country, the Philippines is obliged to honor its commitment. A public denial of its own promise will make it lose credibility to the international community,” Zhang said.

The DFA earlier said the Philippines never made such a commitment.

China warned: Don’t try to tow away BRP Sierra Madre By Christine O. Avendaño Philippine Daily Inquirer 6:25 am | Friday, April 4th, 2014


China was warned Thursday against trying to tow away the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, as this could be considered an attack against the Philippines and prompt the United States to defend the country in keeping with their Mutual Defense Treaty. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—China was warned Thursday against trying to tow away the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, as this could be considered an attack against the Philippines and prompt the United States to defend the country in keeping with their Mutual Defense Treaty.

And should this happen, international law expert and University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque said, the result could be a war in Asia.

“The result: the West Philippine Sea [dispute], unless China backs off, may trigger the biggest armed conflict in the region since the Vietnam and Indochina conflict,” Roque said in a statement.

Roque noted that the Sierra Madre has always been described as a “derelict,” but the government recently described it as a “commissioned naval vessel.”

A statement released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on March 14 said, “The BRP Sierra Madre, a commissioned Philippine naval vessel, was placed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent Philippine government installation in response to China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) in 1995.”

The Philippines says Ayungin Shoal is part of its continental shelf, over which it has “sovereign rights and jurisdiction” and by pointing that the Sierra Madre is a commissioned ship, the government “really wants to trigger the applicability of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Roque said.

That is why China should “rethink” any plans to tow away the Sierra Madre, he said.

“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-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said.

Attack on Sierra Madre

And while the United States has said that the treaty may not be triggered by fighting in the West Philippine Sea because it does not recognize Philippine title to the area, this is not in the case when it involves a commissioned naval vessel, Roque said.

“An attack against a Philippine commissioned naval vessel may be sufficient for the purpose,” he said.

Asked whether he believed China had plans to tow away the Sierra Madre, Roque said China could have such plans, as it was now in the next phase of its 50-year maritime policy that includes “denying others possession of coastal waters” in the South China Sea.

Beijing is “determined to get as much as it could” in the South China Sea, he said.

UN case not a challenge to China—Aquino By Christian V. Esguerra Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:36 am | Tuesday, April 1st, 2014


KEEPING CLOSE WATCH. Chinese Coast Guard ships closely monitor a small Philippine vessel during resupply and troop rotation in the rusting BRP Sierra Madre. PHOTO BY GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

SILANG, Cavite—President Aquino on Monday said the government’s decision to pursue the arbitration case in a United Nations tribunal was not intended to provoke China but to defend Philippine territory peacefully.

The President said filing the case in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) was consistent with the country’s policy to resolve the territorial dispute through peaceful means “in conformity with international law.”

“We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action,” he said after leading the 35th commencement exercises at the Philippine National Police Academy here. “But I do believe that they should recognize [that] we have the right to defend our own interests.”

Speaking a day after the government submitted to the Itlos a 4,000-page “memorial” detailing its case, the President said defending a country’s territorial integrity was something Beijing would have done too if it were the Philippines.

Aquino said he “cannot tell the Chinese government what to do” when asked about the possibility of Beijing harassing Philippine vessels even more following the filing of the memorial.

“If they were in our position, on the reverse, would they have acted differently?” he asked.

“Under different conditions, they are the smaller country, they are the less military-capable, they have interests, will they willingly just forgo their interests here? I don’t think so.”

The President paid “special tribute” to the team of soldiers that managed to evade a Chinese blockade and replace the Marine troops stationed at a grounded Philippine Navy ship on Ayungin Shoal.

“They accomplished the mission without, I believe, increasing the tension and did it in a way that didn’t pose a threat to any other country, again consistent with the peaceful approach,” he said.

“But we had to change the personnel there and provide them the wherewithal to survive on Ayungin Shoal.”

Beijing earlier warned that bilateral relations between China and the Philippines would suffer if Manila proceeded with the arbitration case. China has been insisting on a bilateral approach to settle the territorial dispute, an option that the Philippines has rejected.

On March 9, the Chinese Coast Guard prevented a Philippine vessel from providing fresh supplies to Marine troops manning the grounded BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal.

Last Saturday, a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship on a similar resupply mission was blocked by China. But the vessel managed to complete the task by maneuvering to shallow waters where the much bigger Chinese ships could not follow.

Peaceful resolution

Aquino said Ayungin Shoal was “clearly within” the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

He said the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) provided a “rules-based” approach to “counterclaims” by “every coastal state that has certain entitlements and rights.”

By filing the case based on the provisions of Unclos, the Philippines wants to ascertain “who is entitled to what, what are the rights of each one, what are the obligations of every state,” he said.

“What are our options with regard to the whole issue of the West Philippine Sea in the South China Sea? I subscribed to this oath when I assumed office. I have to defend [our] national territory and our sovereignty,” he said.

“We went to arbitration primarily because that is a means to resolve the dispute consistent with the policy of peaceful [resolution] and in conformity with the international law.”

Asked how confident he was that the Philippines could secure a favorable decision at the Itlos, Aquino said, “It’s difficult to speak with finality at this point in time.”

The President instead noted that the decision to seek arbitration was the product of a “consensus” following a meeting with former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and “senior members of the Cabinet who are focused on this issue.”

China reiterates rejection

The Chinese Embassy on Monday quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei as rejecting arbitration and accusing the Philippines of “illegal occupation of some of China’s islands and reefs.”

Hong said the Philippines agreed to China’s position to settle disputes through direct negotiations in a series of bilateral documents and in a 2002 declaration signed by Beijing and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea.

“The Philippines is obliged to honor its own commitment,” he said.

As a party to Unclos, China also declared in 2006 that such disputes were excluded from arbitration, Hong added.

Code of conduct

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said Manila “never ruled out anything” with regards to resolving the dispute. He said it was up to the tribunal to determine if the case could be subject of arbitration.

That 2002 nonbinding declaration on the South China Sea was seen as a first step to forging a binding agreement. China has only reluctantly agreed to open consultations and has lobbied some Asean members to prevent consensus.

Aquino expressed frustration that after more than a decade of talks between Asean and China, “we still have no code of conduct.”

“So what are our options with regards to the whole issue,” he said. “I have to defend national territory and our sovereignty.”

The Philippines has urged other claimants to join the arbitration case, but none has done so publicly. China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims across the busy South China Sea.

China has asked claimants to settle the disputes through one-on-one negotiations, an advantage for Beijing because of its sheer size and clout. It has also warned Washington not to get involved.

US backs PH move

In Washington, US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf backed the Philippines’ action, saying “all countries should respect the right of any states party, including the Republic of the Philippines, to avail themselves of the dispute resolution mechanisms provided for under the Law of the Sea Convention.”

“We hope that this case serves to provide greater legal certainty and compliance with the international law of the sea,” she said in a statement on Sunday.

She reiterated a longstanding US position that all parties refrain from taking unilateral actions that are “escalatory and destabilizing, to clarify their respective maritime and territorial claims in accordance with international law, and to commit to the peaceful management and resolution of disputes.”—With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and AP


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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