On Ayungin: Conquest No Longer Valid Means to AcquireTerritory


 

Even if China were to remove the Sierra Madre from Ayungin shoal and build yet another artificial island there, it will never acquire title over the area. The reason: International Law has long outlawed the acquisition of territory through conquest.

China also better rethink whether it should tow-awau a commissioned naval vessel. Derelicit as it may be, it is subject to full sovereign immunity and any attempt to tow it away from Ayungin may finally trigger the applicability of the US-Phil Mutual Defence Treaty. Thus far the US has said that the Treaty may not be triggered by fighting in the West Philippine Sea becauae it does not recognize Philippine title to the area. But an attack against a Philippine comissioned naval vessel may be sufficient for the purpose. The result: the West Philippine Sea, unless China backs off, may trigger the biggest armed conflict in the region since the Vietnam and Indo-China conflict.

China’s retaliation?


Former Secretary Raffy Alunan warned on ANC this week that China will retaliate in response to our filing of our Memorial in our  pending arbitration against China under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Citing the earlier move of China in banning the entry of our bananas into their territory, Alunan warned that China’ s retaliation could be in the form of further economic sanctions and worse, even sabotage. Referring to the possibility of the latter, Alunan warned that the Chinese could resort to sabotage of our power grid, since the National Power Grid Corporation is 40% owned by a Chinese company. He also warned about possible cyber attacks against our networks.  A pro-China advocate has dismissed Alunan’s warnings as unlikely. I prefer not to dismiss the warnings as in fact; history has shown that nothing is impossible in the field of international relations. Who would have thought that the United States would persist in its illegal occupation of Iraq? Neither did we expect that Russia would be so brazen as to annex Crimea?   Simply put, we have to prepare for China’s retaliations, whatever form it may take.

Alunan was actually warning about two things: one, China’s unwavering claim to the nine-dash lines; which will persist whether or not we continue with our arbitration. Second, the fact that China has not been shy in telling the world that it takes offense to the fact that it was sued before an international tribunal. Judge Xue Henquin explained in the Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law that this was a “cultural” trait of the Chinese. They just don’t like to be sued.

Alunan’s warnings therefore should be qualified. Insofar as the Chinese claim to the West Philippine Sea is concerned, China will not only resort to sanctions and sabotage in order to defend its claim. In fact, its published defense policy is to develop sea-denial capability in the West Philippines Sea from 2010 to 2020. This means that it will not have second thoughts in ousting countries, even through the illegal use of force, that it views as “intruders” in the disputed islands and shoals in the Spratlys and Panatag. On the other hand, given China’s antipathy towards the arbitration, which, if the Tribunal assumes jurisdiction will surely result in judgment against it, China will apply, all sorts of pressure for the country to withdraw the same. This is where the sanctions and sabotage may come to play, as warned by Alunan.

In any case, Alunan’s warning about the sabotage on our power grid deserves serious attention. With allegations of price fixing now hounding our power producers, Congress should seriously re-examine its earlier view that power generation and distribution are not in the nature of public convenience. Had they been as such as in fact they are, the state could have exercised the necessary regulation that could have prevented these allegations of price fixing today. Moreover, power generation and distribution are franchises. They are for the public with the latter as end users. Ergo, both businesses are hence vested with the public interest and hence, their entitlement to engage in these kind of business should be in the nature of a privilege and not a right. The consequence of this would be an outright revocation of their franchise if the allegations of price fixing could be proven.

In any case, while I fully concur with Alunan that the Philippines should be weary of China’s retaliation, perhaps we should still not be too alarmed on the consequences of the filing of our memorial due on the 30th of this month.

I think what China objects to is the initiation of the arbitral proceedings itself and not the memorial per se. In fact the Chinese, through Judge Xue, considers the arbitration as a “substantive breach” of the code of conduct agreed upon by China and ASEAN. What baffles me on this point is how China can complaint that a peaceful resort to peaceful arbitration can be a breach of a treaty obligation while at the same time, resorting to the firing of water canons at unarmed Filipino subsistence fishermen as being in compliance with the said code of conduct.

One final point. Alunan said that the barring of Philippine bananas was because of the initiation of the arbitration proceedings. This is not the case. The resort to non-0-trade barriers against our bananas was an offshoot of our navy boat arresting Chinese fishermen in Panatag. Fortunately, while China can resort to this anew, it will not be as easy as it was in the past. This is because meanwhile, ASEAN and China entered into a bilateral investment agreement that grants protection to both our investments and export products. This means that it will be expensive for China to bar entry of any of our export commodities henceforth. This courtesy of the ASEAN Investment treaty with China.

(as published in the column of Atty. Harry L. Roque Jr. in Manila Standard Today, 27 March 2014)

 

China’s thrust for Ayungin and Marinduque’s options


The news reported that China had recently blocked delivery of food supplies to our troops holed up in a derelict US ship in Ayungin shoal. To many, this is another first since it is the very first concrete step taken by China to take possession of the disputed shoal from us. In reality, though, this recent act is but another manifestation of China’s long-term overall maritime policy in relation to the West Philippine Sea and the rest of the world.

China’s defense and maritime policies are contained in several printed policy papers beginning in 1998. This was updated in April 2013 and is entitled “The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces.” According to this document, the Chinese policy is to “safeguard its border and promote its coastal security.” The document states that the role of Chinese armed forces is “to defend and exercise jurisdiction over China’s land borders and sea areas.” In the same paper, China regards the West Philippine seas as its coastal waters, the defense of which enjoys the same priority as quashing any attempt at achieving independence of Taiwan and opposing calls for the right to self-determination of Tibet.

Unlike the Philippines, China has a printed policy paper on its short-, medium- and long-term maritime policy. Its overall objective is to resurrect China’s old glory of being a world maritime power by 2050. Meanwhile, it is pursuing two short- and medium-term goals: during the first phase concluding in 2000, the People’s Liberation Army shall have acquired sea-control power within its coastal waters. During the second phase, which is from 2010-2020, the PLA shall have achieved a kind of sea-denial capability within its first island chain in the West Pacific, the West Philippine Sea. It is precisely this second goal which explains China’s recent actions in Ayungin. If the printed maritime policies are to be followed, this means in fact that China will not only take control and possession of Ayungin, it aims also to occupy all other disputed islands, shoals and reef, even the biggest island under our occupation, Kalayaan. The issue is not if, but when it will actually do so.

It is precisely this maritime defense policy that gives urgency to an early resolution of our arbitral claims now pending with the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Unless the tribunal rules on the validity of China’s nine-dash lines, China will implement its 50-year maritime policy in a manner that treats the entirety of the West Philippines Sea encompassed by these lines as its internal and territorial waters. For what it’s worth, the initiation of the arbitration will be remembered forever as PNoy’s best foreign policy initiative.

* * *

I have been to the island of Marinduque twice in a time span of a month, The reason is to explain the $20-million dollar offer made by Barrick Gold, the biggest gold mining company in the world, to settle the suit of the province filed against it in 2005 currently pending in a Federal Court of Nevada.

Since I am not qualified to practice in the United States, my participation in the lawsuit was only as an expert witness on the binding nature of international environmental law to the United States. One of the cornerstones of environmental law is the so-called “polluter pays principle”, which mandates that entities that cause pollution must pay for the clean-up.

The US Coast Guard has estimated that no less than 100 million dollars is required to clean up the 200 million tons of mine tailings dumped into the island’s rivers and waters. The problem though is that meanwhile, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case of Kiobel vs., Shell that henceforth US courts should  not exercise jurisdiction over claims against foreign corporation for acts which did not take place in the territory of the United States. Kiobel was s a case under the Alien Tort Claims act that authorizes US courts to exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction against respondents found in the US for violations of International Law. This statute has been utilized since the 1980s as a means to hold despots responsible for their acts of extralegal killings, torture and enforced disappearances since the case of Filartiga involving a former Panamanian despot. This was also the cause of action of the martial law victims against the estate of Marcos.

In 2013, the US Supreme Court in Kiobel held that henceforth, US courts cannot exercise jurisdiction versus foreign corporations for torts committed overseas solely because these foreign corporations’ shares are listed in the stock market in the US or because they have a commercial presence in the US. Today, the US Supreme Court requires the following as the test for the exercise of US jurisdiction: Do they “touch and concern the territory of the United States . . . with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application?”

Unfortunately, much as I would want a higher settlement for Marinduque, the pending case against Barrick appears to be barred by the test of Kiobel. This is because Barrick is a Canadian company and the acts that led to the environmental damage were done in the Philippines. Sad to say, the province has become of the many victims of the Kiobel test. But hey, $20 million dollars is still about a billion pesos. This is hardly a sum of money that can be considered peanuts to to a province that earns only P200 million annually.

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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

The Chinese view on the Philippine arbitration on the West Philippine Sea


Judge Xue

Judge Xue

Participants to the recently concluded 4th biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law in New Delhi, India last November 15, 2017 heard for the first time the Chinese position on the Philippine arbitral claim on the West Philippines Sea dispute.

In the said conference, I delivered a paper entitled “What next after the Chinese Snub? Examining the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedure: Philippines vs. China”. My paper argued that the issues that the Philippines brought to the arbitral claims, to wit, the validity of China’s nine-dash lines, whether certain low-tide elevations where China has built installations pertain to the Philippines as part of its continental shelf; and whether the waters surrounding the territorial sea of Panatag form part of the Philippines EEZ are issues of interpretation of specific provisions of the UNCLOS and hence, were within the compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedure of the UNCLOS.

Further, while I acknowledged that China’s reservations on maritime delimitation and law enforcement activities in the exercise of sovereign rights were more challenging obstacles to hurdle, they were not insurmountable because the language of the Philippine claim does not call for a ruling involving any of the reservations made by China.

My paper assumed that the Tribunal’s jurisdiction over China as party to the proceedings was well settled. This is because China, as a party to the UNCLOS, has accepted the dispute settlement procedure of the Convention, together with all the provisions of the Convention which were all adopted on the basis of consensus.

The Chinese Judge to the International Court of Justice, Judge Xue Hanqin, was present in the conference. Judge Xue is the highest woman official in China prior to her election to the Court. Previously, she served as chief legal adviser and head of the treaties office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Ambassador to the Netherlands and Asean. She is said to have been groomed to be part of the Central Bureau of China’s People’s Party had she not opted to join the ICJ. While Judge Xue and I have been good friends, having served together in the Executive Council of the Asian Society of International Law for the past 6 years, I knew it would still be awkward to have her listening to my presentation.

But the most unusual thing happened after my 25-minute presentation. Judge Xue, explaining that since she was the only Chinese present in the conference because the Chinese delegates were denied visas by Indian authorities, took the floor for the next 20 minutes and for the first time expounded extensively on the Chinese position on the Philippine arbitral claim. This was unusual because magistrates, be it from domestic or international courts, will normally refuse to comment on an actual dispute, which could come to their court for adjudication. This certainly applies to the West Philippines Sea dispute.

Judge Xue raised four crucial points. Her first was that the Philippine claim involved territorial claims which is outside the purview of UNCLOS. She added though that “since the end of World War II, the international community, has acknowledged the existence of China’s nine-dash lines with no country ever questioning it until oil resources were discovered in the area.” Without expounding on the nature of the lines, she claimed that it is “not considered as a boundary line” and they “have not affected international navigation in the area.” She claimed that there was “”no international law applied in this regard to the region.”

Second, Judge Xue argued that 40 countries, including China, made declarations to the dispute settlement procedure of the UNCLOS. According to her, this means “these 40 states have not accepted the dispute settlement of the Convention as being compulsory”. She said that “when countries joined UNCLOS I, they are not deemed to have given up all their previous territorial claims.”

Third, she said that as China’s first Ambassador to Asean, she knows that the countries of Asean and China have agreed to a code of conduct relating to the South China Sea. Under this code, disputes must be resolved through negotiations and not through arbitration. She claimed that this obligation was “a substantive obligation binding on all claimant state.”

Fourth, Judge Xue explained that China opted out of the arbitration because “no country can fail to see the design” of the Philippine claim which she described as having “mixed up jurisdiction with the merits.”

She opined that the Philippines’ resort to arbitration complicated what she described as an “impressive process between Asean and China”. What the Philippine did “was to begin with the “complicated part of the South China Sea dispute” rather then with easier ones such as “disaster management.” This later pronouncement all but confirmed that the very limited humanitarian assistance extended to the Philippines by China in the aftermath of Yolanda was because of the Philippine resort to arbitration.

Judge Xue ended her intervention by exhorting the Philippines to consider joint use of the disputed waters, a matter that according to her has been successfully resorted to by China and Vietnam.

While Judge Xue’s intervention made our panel, without a doubt, the most memorable exchange in the conference, her declarations provided us with many answers that China has refused to give us.

We have Judge Xue to thank for this.

Judge Xue asked that I post this disclaimer: “Judge Xue Hanqin wishes to reiterate that she participated in the 4th Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law held in New Delhi from 14-16 November 2013 in her personal capacity as a member of the said Society and her remarks in response to Professor Harry Roques presentation at the panel discussion on the South China Sea are solely of her own and do not represent in any way the official position ofChina on the issue. She also wishes to point out that her remarks are not fully and accurately reflected in Blog articles.”