Provisional measures


Philippine policy makers have confirmed that despite the pendency of its arbitration proceedings under the binding and compulsory dispute settlement procedure of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, China is hastening the building of an artificial island in Mabini reef, as well as expanding its existing artificial island in Fiery Reef.

Contemporaneous with these construction, China has been more aggressive in exercising its sovereign right to explore for oil in the disputed area leading to recent boat ramming incidents resulting in at least 10 Vietnamese being wounded. It also issued what appears to be a demand letter for the Philippines to leave all of the disputed islands and waters in the Spratlys, as well as from Panatag shoal, the latter being separate and distinct form the Spratlys.

I have written before that China’s acts are consistent with its published defense policy, which currently seeks to achieve “sea-denial capability” in what it considers as its coastal waters, the waters within the so-called nine-dash lines. Clearly, one must commend the Chinese—albeit bereft of legal merits—for their consistency in both policy formulation and implementation.

Given recent Chinese actions and the fact that contrary to the best hope of Philippine policy makers that US President Obama’s visit to the region will have a deterrent effect on Chinese expansionism, these recent events validate China’s design to expel all other claimant countries from the disputed territory on or before 2020, which is only six years away. Given this reality, it becomes imperative for the Philippines to prompt the UNCLOS ad hoc Tribunal to hasten the process of its ruling particularly on the validity of the nine-dash lines, described by a Japanese academic recently descried as a prayer for “declaration of rights” rather than an exercise of maritime delimitation, the latter being covered by a Chinese reservation to the jurisdiction of the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedure.

One manner by which the Philippines could utilize the existing arbitration as a means to curtail China from its expansionist desires is through a remedy known as “provisional remedy” provided under Art. 290 (1) of the UNCLOS. Said provision reads: “If a dispute has been duly submitted to a court or tribunal which considers that prima facie it has jurisdiction under this Part or Part XI, section 5, the court or tribunal may prescribe any provisional measures which it considers appropriate under the circumstances to preserve the respective rights of the parties to the dispute or to prevent serious harm to the environment, pending the final decision”.

Case law is replete with instances when Tribunals deciding on issues involving the Law of the Sea have resorted to provisional measures. For instance, the ITLOS, prior to the formation of an Hoc panel headed by Filipino Florentino Feliciano in the Southern Blue Fin Tuna case, issued a provisional order against Japan from further fishing of blue fin tuna in the pacific pending resolution of the arbitration on the merits. Likewise, in MV Saga No. 2, ITLOS issued provisional measures for the immediate release of the vessel and its crew. In the latest case between Netherlands and Russia involving the arrest and charging of Greenpeace activists charged by Russia with piracy, the ITLOS also issued provisional orders for the immediate release of the activists.

The literal provisions of Art 290 of the UNCLOS on provisional remedies require only two elements for the issuance of a provisional order, to wit; prima facie determination of subject matter; two, necessity of preserving rights of the parties pending the final decision.

I suppose the reason why the Philippine legal panel did not ask for provisional measures from the start of its claim is because of China’s specific reservations to the dispute settlement of the UNCLOS which may come to play where a provisional order is asked of the tribunal. Specifically, this relates to the exercise of law enforcement activities arising from the exercise of sovereign rights. Note that the arbitration was finally resorted to by the Philippines after its fishermen were literally barred from fishing in the area of the Panatag shoal. Fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone is an exercise of sovereign rights, which relates to the exclusive right to explore and exploit natural resources found in the EEZ. Had the Philippines asked at the onset for provisional remedy against China barring Filipino fishermen from fishing in Panatag, the controversy would have fallen on a subject matter expressly reserved by China from the jurisdiction of the tribunal: the sovereign right to fish.

But China’s recent acts have gone beyond law enforcement activities relating to sovereign rights. The building of artificial islands in low tide elevations, such as Mabini reef and Fiery Cross reef, are actual exercise of sovereign rights and do not relate to law enforcement activities. Likewise, its recent use of and resort to the threat to the use of force against the Philippines and Vietnam, coupled with its demand for both claimants to leave the area under their possession, are clear exercise of sovereignty and do not relate to the subject matter reservation of China. Moreover, China’s acts, because they are done pursuant to its disputed nine-dash lines, may be challenged on the basis that the Philippine (would be) prayer for provisional measures, and its prayer on the merits, call for declaration of rights and not maritime delimitation, the latter also excluded by China in its reservations to the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedure.

The bottom line is this: when the UNCLOS required all parties thereto to bring all questions of interpretation and application to the dispute settlement of the Convention, it could not have contemplated that state parties who opted not to participate in these proceedings should be allowed to violate provision of the Convention with impunity more so when they choose not to participate in the compulsory proceedings. Given China’s recent actuations, it’s high time that it is reigned in through a provisional measure.

UP PROF: “CHINA CHALLENGING UNCLOS”


REF. Atty Romel Bagares 09166679802

China’s snub of the Philippine arbitral claim on the West Philippine Sea and its slew of building projects on disputed reefs in the area are “a serious and belligerent violation of” the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which it is a member, according to an outspoken Filipino legal academic at an international law conference in Tokyo.

Speaking at the 5th Annual Meeting of the Japan Society of International law at the Chuo University Law School last Sunday, University of the Philippines professor Harry L. Roque Jr. said that China’s refusal to participate in the arbitration and its unilateral acts in building artificial islands in the disputed maritime area of the Spratly’s constitutes a “serious breach of the UNCLOS since as a party to the Convention, China agreed to refer all matters involving interpretation and application of the UNCLOS to the compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedure of the Convention”.

Roque, who is also Director of the UP Law Center’s Institute of international Legal Studies, said that the international community took a very long time to agree on the provisions of UNCLOS because all countries of the world wanted the Convention to be the “constitution for the seas”.

“By prohibiting reservations and by adopting all provision on the basis of consensus, it was the intention of the world community to do away with the use of force and unilateral acts in the resolution of all disputes arising from maritime territory,” said Roque.

Debunking the view expressed recently by Judge Xue Hanquin, the Chinese Judge in the International Court of Justice that states that made declarations when they ratified the UNCLOS, China included, are deemed to have opted out of the dispute settlement procedure of the Convention, Roque noted that China’s subsequent reservations only as to specific subject matters from the jurisdiction of the dispute settlement procedures proves that China agreed to be bound by the procedure. “This means that China is under a very clear obligation to participate in the proceedings, if only to dispute the jurisdiction of the Tribunal,” Roque said.

More worrisome, according to Roque, is China’s recent resort to the use of force in bolstering its claim to the disputed territories.

It has been reported recently that China has been building artificial islands in Johnson South Reef and expanding its artificial island in Fiery Cross reef, and deploying its naval forces to ward off any opposition.

“These construction are happening in the face of China’s snub of the arbitral proceedings which precisely impugns China’s legal rights to do so. Clearly, China’s conduct is not only illegal as prohibited use of force, but is also contemptous of the proceedings”, Roque said.

The Philippines is the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea to declare that China’s nine-dash lines is illegal since it is not sanctioned by the UNCLOS. The Philippine claim also asked the Hague -based arbitral tribunal that four “low-water elevations,” so-called because they are only visible during low tide, and where China has build artificial islands, be declared as part of the continental shelf of the Philippines, and that the waters outside of the 12 nautical miles of Panatag shoal be declared as part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

Roque belied China’s claim that the waters within the nine-dash lines are generated by land territory and hence, the controversy cannot be resolved under the UNCLOS. “Clearly, the three specific prayers of the Philippines involve interpretation and application of specific provisions to UNCLOS relating to internal waters, territorial sea, Exclusive Economic Zones, islands, and low tide elevations. While the Spratlys dispute without a doubt also involves land territory, these are not the subjects of the Philippines claim, Roque added.

The Chinese academic in the conference, Prof. Zhang Xinjun of Tsinghua University, characterized the Philippine arbitral claim as a “mixed claim” because it involves both claims to sovereignty arising from land territory and not just purely maritime territory. This, he explained, is why the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal lacks jurisdiction over the Philippine claim. He likened the Philippine proceeding to that initiated by Mauritius against the United Kingdom. In this case, while it is also pending, the UK has argued that the dispute settlement proceedings of UNCLOS should not apply because the disputed maritime territory are generated by land territory.

The Japanese academic, Prof. NIishimoto Kentaro of Tohoku University, on the other hand, expressed reservations whether the Philippines could prevail in impugning China’s title to all four islands, which the Philippines claimed should form part of the Philippine continental shelf. At least two of these islands are within the 200 nautical miles of Ito Iba Island, currently under the control of Taiwan, and thus may not form part of the Philippine continental shelf, according to the Japanese academic.

He supported however the Philippines position on the nine-dash lines arguing that in seeking a declaration of nullity of these lines, the Philippines was not engaged in maritime delimitation, but in an action for a declaration of rights, which is an issue of interpretation and application of the UNCLOS. He characterized the Philippines position against the Nine-Dash lines as “very strong”.

Japan is also engaged in its own territorial dispute with China over Senkaku Island.

Prof. Roque’s power point presentation at the conference may be found in http://www.harryroque.com

Request for Coverage: Activities to Mark the Relaunch of the Philippine Society of International Law


THE MEDIA IS REQUESTED TO COVER THE FOLLOWING EVENTS AT THE UP LAW CENTER TO MARK THE REVIVAL OF THE PHILIPPINE SOCIETY OF INTERNATIONAL LAW:

Round Table on the West Philippine Sea Arbitration
Solicitor -General Francis Jardeleza: Keynote Speaker
Reactors:
Dean Merlin Magallona
Dean Raul Pangalangan
Prof. H., Harry L. Roque
February 27, 1PM at the 2nd floor conference room, UP Law Center, Bocobo Hall, UP Diliman
Focused Group Discussion on the ASEAN Common Market
February 28, 2014
9AM, 2nd flr. conference room, UP Law Center, Bocobo Hall, UP Diliman
Please confirm attendance with Au Tolentino, 9293654

China’s snub: lost opportunity to prove its claim to the West Philippine Sea


imagesOnly two hours ago,   the Chinese Foreign Ministry through Ambassador Ma informed Filipino diplomats  that they were rejecting the notice to arbitrate and the statement of claims which the Philippines furnished the Chinese delegation in Manila to arbitrate the legality of the Chinese nine-dash lines under the compulsory and mandatory dispute settlement procedure of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This means that China will now snub the arbitration and will not participate in the proceedings.

This is truly unfortunate. China has repeatedly maintained that it exercsies” undisputable sovereignty and rights” in the waters within its  nine-dash lines. And yet, it has failed to explain the nature and the basis of its claims. The arbitration would have been the appropriate forum where it can regale the rest of the world with both its legal and factual basis for its claim to title to a greater portion of the west Philippine Sea. With this latest decision, the world is again left to wonder what, if any, China’s legal basis is.

The arbitration under Annex VII of the UNCLOS will of course proceed. The Philippine has appointed a former president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and still a sitting Judge  in the tribunal, Rüdiger Wolfrum, a German national as its arbitrator for the proceedings. The Chinese snub now makes it incumbent on the current President of the ITLOS, Shunji Yanai, a Japanese national, to complete the five man tribunal. Thereafter, it is expected that the Tribunal will sit as the lone judge of its own competence. It will have to determine whether the issues submitted by the Philippines, to wit: the legality of the nine-dash lines, the status of the waters outside of the 12 nautical miles of the Panatag shoal, and whether low tide elevations currently occupied by China in the disputed Spratlys group of islands form part of the continental shelf of the Philippines.

China;s snub, while regretful, has nonetheless made our task to resolve the West Philippines dispute somehow easier. As in all forms of litigation, an ex-parte submission is always easier than a disputed proceeding.

Beware of Chinese Doublespeak


China’s failure to remove its vessels from Panatag Shoal is clear evidence of Chinese shadow play in the resolution of the dispute. Remember that about a month ago, Chinese authorities declared a fishing ban in the area for a period of two and a half months. Philippine authorities, in an effort to calm the standoff, followed suit and declared a similar ban. But contrary to the ban, no less than 20 Chinese fishing boats remain in the lagoon of the shoal, an area that is approximately as big as Quezon City. This number is in addition to no less than three Chinese government vessels in the area. This is clear doublespeak.

Despite China’s doublespeak, President Aquino still ordered our two remaining government vessels in the area to leave. The pretext was the onslaught of a powerful typhoon. But diplomatic pundits do not buy this. They say that the real reason is that our policy makers probably miscalculated that China, like us, would want to reduce the tension the area. They hoped that Chinese authorities would reciprocate the order for our vessels to leave. This did not happen.

At least, it is now clear that China does not intend, or wish, to scale down its action.  It is also now clear that China will not settle for anything less than our relinquishment of our claim to the shoal. This is their desired end-result when they espouse a “diplomatic” solution to the standoff.

The question in our mind is why is China taking this position only now? And why the brazenness of its acts?

Observers posit that China’s actuations are a precursor of further trouble to come. The real battle ground is Recto Bank where we are about to drill for oil. Our responses to Chinese provocation in the shoal will in turn determine their future actuations in Recto Bank. On the basis of their current track record in the shoal, we should expect the Chinese to send its entire Armada to Recto should we persist in our effort to drill for oil in the area. Already, China has announced that it would conduct military exercises aimed at defending their perceived right to explore for mineral deposits in the West Philippine Sea. This is a clear message that China will use its recently acquired military might to defend its interest in these troubled waters.

It is imperative for Philippine policymakers now to acknowledge this state of affairs. Yes, diplomacy is the preferred mode of international dispute settlement. But this is only when the parties to the dispute observe good faith in their negotiations to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute. It cannot be the solution when the Chinese view is that diplomacy should only result in our recognition of their claim to the area.

I have consistently argued hence that the only recourse for the country is to resort to the binding and mandatory dispute settlement procedure of the UNCLOS. The question was asked recently in a forum sponsored by the Ortigas library on why the Philippines has not brought the matter earlier to this dispute settlement body.

Professor Randy David had a notable observation. President Gloria Arroyo, according to him, courted Chinese support precisely by sitting on our options in asserting our national territory. This appears plausible given that instead of asserting our sovereignty, PGMA and her cohorts at the DFA and other line agencies—many of whom have recycled themselves as being pro-P Noy today—allowed the Chinese to engage, among others, in the exploration of our natural resources through the Joint Maritime Seismic and Exploration Agreement of the West Philippines Seas and the grant of mining grants in Diwalwal and North Davao to the company behind the botched National Broadband Network, ZTE Corporation. This is, many believe, in return for the many fraudulent Chinese funded projects entered into by the Arroyo regime, including the Northrail contract and the NBN-ZTE deal. In short, it was territory in exchange for pay-offs, or “tongpats.”

It is hoped that President Aquino will hence assert Philippine sovereignty in territories that are in fact ours.  The starting point is a clear and unequivocal declaration from a body such as the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea on which country is entitled to explore and exploit the natural resources in Panatag and in the Kalayaan group of islands.