Philippines to bring China dispute to world body

Posted at 08/03/2012 6:24 PM | Updated as of 08/03/2012 6:24 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is now preparing to bring its territorial dispute with China over certain areas in the West Philippine Sea to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), but international law experts warned it may be fruitless because China does not recognize the body's jurisdiction.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez said the country is now gearing towards taking the legal track in settling the dispute with Beijing "with or without" its cooperation.

"The preparations are ongoing and we hope that we can do this as soon as possible," he said without giving any specific timeframe. "We are closely studying this track and we are hoping that we are able to use this legal track in order to have this settled peacefully."

Hernandez noted that the Philippines has filed 12 diplomatic protests against China since April, when the standoff over the Scarborough Shoal began.

Strong case

Tom Ginsburg, a professor of international law and political science at the University of Chicago Law School, believes the Philippines has a very strong case.

But he said the problem is that China is not willing to submit to the jurisdiction of international courts.

"I don't think you'll be able to do it without agreement from the other side," Ginsburg said at the sidelines of the inaugural conference of the Angara Centre for Law and Economic Policy, where he was a speaker.

"Historically, China has not been willing in its international relations to submit to the jurisdiction of international courts and tribunals. It's very defensive about international law for perhaps understandable reasons, given its own experience with international law in the 19th century, which was used to colonize China," he added.

Yas Banifatemi of the Public International Law Group of the France-based law firm Shearman and Sterling explained that although resolving the dispute through arbitration is an available an option, it is not easy to do.

"It is something that takes time. It is something for which you have a strategy to implement. And then you want to achieve a binding decision on law," she told reporters. "It is something you do not do lightly."

Even if the case is resolved in favor of the Philippines, she said "the question is, how do you implement the provisions of the United Nations Convention?"

Other options

Banifatemi suggested that the Philippines continue to explore other options, such as direct negotiations with China while seeking the support of fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

 "It's a question of approaching China and having a common view between the states to resolve the issue. I think there's a role to play for everyone who can assist in terms of defining a forum for negotiation and for discussions," she said.

In a recent meeting of Asean foreign ministers, the Philippines was disappointed at the organization's failure to come up with a joint statement on China's activities in the disputed waters. It said China's ally, Cambodia, blocked efforts to come up with a communiqué.

Hernandez said the Philippines has moved on from the issue since the Asean foreign ministers already came up with a statement containing its 6-point principles on the South China Sea disputes.

"The joint communiqué is already a thing of the past," he said.