PHL welcomes Tribunal decision debunking China’s position

The Philippines on Friday welcomed the decision of an international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands to assume jurisdiction over its case against China, which seeks to invalidate Beijing’s massive claim in the resource-rich South China Sea.

Such ruling by the five-man judges of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on October 29, three months after the Philippine legal team argued its case in The Hague last July, enables the court to finally proceed to formal deliberations on Manila’s complaint that challenges the legality of Beijing’s assertion that its ownership of nearly the entire South China Sea is “indisputable” and “historical.”

“We welcome the decision of the Arbitral Tribunal that it has jurisdiction over our case,” a Foreign Affairs statement said. “We look forward to the Tribunal’s further hearing on the merits of the case.”

In an initial legal victory for the Philippines, which filed the case in January 2013, the tribunal said it will be holding hearings soon and that a final ruling on the case will be handed down in 2016. The tribunal, in its 147-page decision, also debunked China’s argument that Manila’s case is beyond the scope of the court’s mandate.

In its decision, the tribunal said it has immediate jurisdiction on seven out of 15 points raised by Manila against China, called “submissions” in legal parlance, but postponed for “later consideration” its jurisdiction ruling on eight other issues raised by Manila, saying it will be decided on as it conducts a formal hearing on the merits of the case.

“The Tribunal will convene a further hearing on the merits of the Philippines’ claims. In consultation with the Parties, the Tribunal has provisionally set the dates for the merits hearing,” the ruling said. “The Tribunal expects that it will render its Award on the merits and remaining jurisdictional issues in 2016.”

China says it owns about 90 percent of the South China Sea and the cluster of islands, reefs and atolls further south that’s called the Spratlys. Other claimants are Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Parts of the South China Sea that fall under Manila’s exclusive economic zone was renamed West Philippine Seaby the Philippine government.

All claimants have stationed military troops in their territories in the vast sea, said to be sitting atop huge oil and gas deposits, except for Brunei.