OSG gears for presentation of evidence in West Philippine Sea case

GOVERNMENT lawyers are now preparing for the presentation of the Philippines’s evidence before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague after the latter ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear and resolve the Philippines’s complaint against China’s incursions in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, a member of the Philippine legal team who presented the position of the country that the tribunal has jurisdiction over the case, welcomed the decision as it would pave the way for the presentation of the merits of the Philippine’s substantive claims.

“The decision represents a significant step forward in the Philippines’s quest for a peaceful, impartial resolution of the disputes between the parties and the clarification of their rights under Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea],” Hilbay said in a text message to reporters.

The Philippines brought its case before the arbitral tribunal in January 2013, challenging the legality of China’s nine-dash line claim over the entire South China Sea, which overlaps in the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Hilbay disclosed that the tentative schedule for the presentation of merits is from November  24 to 30.

After presentation on the merits, the court is expected to rule on the merits next year.

On Thursday the PCA unanimously ruled that it has “jurisdiction” to hear the matters raised in seven of the Philippines’s submissions.

The court, however, stressed that the ruling does not decide any aspect of the merits of the parties’ dispute.

“In light of the foregoing, the tribunal has concluded that it is presently able to decide that it does have jurisdiction.  The tribunal has concluded, however, that its jurisdiction with respect to seven other submissions by the Philippines will need to be considered in conjunction with the merits. The tribunal has requested the Philippines to clarify and narrow one of its submissions,” the tribunal, led by Judge Thomas A. Mensah, said in a statement.

Although the hearing on the merits of the Philippines’s case will not be open to the public, the tribunal said that it will consider written requests from interested states to send delegations to attend the hearing as observers.

The court said, “States which sent observers to the hearing on jurisdiction and admissibility, namely, Malaysia, the Republic of Indonesia, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Kingdom of Thailand and Japan, will be informed of the hearing dates.”

The UN-backed arbitration court, in deciding to proceed the hearing of the case, threw out China’s argument that the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the case for the reason that the dispute was actually about the sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea.

They also did not give credence to China’s assertion that the case filed by the Philippines concerns the delimitation of a maritime boundary between the two countries.

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