PH Invites China to Intl Court

In a statement issued yesterday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the purpose of the exercise will be to ascertain the country that has sovereign rights over the waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal "where Chinese ships are currently engaging in illegal activities within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)."

Seemingly threatened by the mili¬tary might of China, the Philippines is poised to invite "our Chinese friends" to join in the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to peacefully settle the Scarborough Shoal issue.

In a statement issued yesterday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the purpose of the exer¬cise will be to ascertain the country that has sovereign rights over the wa¬ters surrounding Scarborough Shoal "where Chinese ships are currently engaging in illegal activities within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)."

"The whole world knows that China has myriad more ships and aircraft than the Philippines," said Del Rosa¬rio. "At day's end, however, we hope to demonstrate that international law would be the great equalizer."

The ITLOS is an intergovernmental organization created by the mandate of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea and established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed at Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Dec. 10, 1982.

The Convention entered into force on Nov. 16, 1994, and established an in¬ternational framework for law over "all ocean space, its uses and resources."

The Convention also established the International Seabed Authority, with responsibility for the regulation of seabed mining beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, that is beyond the limits of the territorial sea, the contigu¬ous zone and the continental shelf.

The Tribunal has the power to settle disputes between UN states parties.

Earlier, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) lodged a protest to China through its ambassador in Manila with respect to the reported harassment by Chinese ships and aircraft of the M/Y Saranggani, a Philippine-registered boat doing archeological research in the West Philippine Sea, last Friday.

In a statement, DFA Spokesperson Raul Hernandez said such actions are in violation of the sovereign right and jurisdiction of the Philippines to conduct marine research in the Philip¬pines' EEZ.

He said the M/Y Saranggani is in Bajo de Masinloc, Province of Zam¬bales, which is 124 nautical miles west of Zambales and is within the 200 nauti¬cal miles EEZ and Continental Shelf of the Philippines.

As of press time, Hernandez said discussions on the Scarborough Shoal issue is still in a stalemate.
However, he said the DFA will continue to exert efforts to reach a diplomatic solution.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy argued that, in accordance with rel¬evant international conventions and Chinese laws, it is illegal to conduct salvage activities in the vicinity of Huangyan Island (Chinese name for the Scarborough Shoal) without the permission of the Chinese government since China has sovereign right over the area.

"There is, indeed, an ancient Chi¬nese wreck ship in Huangyan Island area, of which China has the owner¬ship," said Chinese Embassy Spokes¬person Zhang Hua on Monday as he noted that the area is the traditional fishing ground of Chinese fishermen for generations. "We urge the ar¬chaeological vessel leave the area immediately."

According to Hua, the Chinese public service vessels which report¬edly harassed the Philippine ship are conducting legitimate patrols for enforcement in Huangyan Island.

Del Rosario, who left for Wash¬ington DC over the weekend, has expressed his disappointment on the latest developments in the long-standing dispute, particularly the actions made by China.

"It appears that there is an ele¬ment that is lacking in our negotia¬tions," Del Rosario said following his meeting with Chinese ambassador to Manila Ma Keqing Friday night. "I seek a deeper element of trust from our Chinese friends."
Meanwhile, Malacañang is hop¬ing that the country's territorial rift with China could be resolved at the ITLOS.

Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte said they support the plans of the DFA to elevate its com¬plaint on the illegal incursions of China into the country's territory before the international tribunal.

The Aquino government has in¬sisted that Panatag or Scarborough Shoal lies within the country's territory recognized by international marine law. It is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales, which is still within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile ex¬clusive economic zone.

Relatedly, Defense Secretary Vol¬taire Gazmin revealed yesterday that among the issues expected to be raised during the PH-US Bilateral Strategic Dialogue and the 2 plus 2 meeting later this month in Washington DC is the Scarborough Shoal, where tensions remain high as the military impasse in the area enters its second week.

At a press forum in Camp Aguinaldo, Gazmin said tension at the shoal stepped up after a Chinese aircraft on Monday buzzed a Filipino fishing vessel in the area. A similar incident was also experienced on Saturday by a Philippine explora¬tion vessel, M/Y Saranggani while conducting archeological survey in the area.

According to the defense chief, he remains optimistic that the issue will come to a peaceful resolution, but in order to attain this, the two parties involve - Philippines and China - have to face each other before the International Court of Justice.

Aside from bringing the matter before the international court, he said he also expects the Scarborough issue to be raised when he and For¬eign Affairs Secretary Del Rosario meet their American counterparts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta April 30 in Washington, DC.

The meeting will cover regional issues, bilateral and defense is¬sues, and economic cooperation and Gazmin said, "I'm sure this will be one of the subject matter." (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling, Elena L. Aben, Rio Rose Ribaya, and Rolly T. Carandang)

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