With less than a week before the decision is released, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio remains confident the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague will rule favorably on Manila’s case contesting China’s massive claim in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.
“I think we are very optimistic that we will win in the case, that we will get a favorable ruling. But of course we don’t know the ruling. We have to study that once we get the ruling,” Carpio told reporters after his keynote address at the opening of the three-day 2nd Asian Regional Conference of the International Association of Forensic Linguistics at the University of Santo Tomas.
“I’m very confident we will win,” he said, adding he would consider it a “huge victory” if the UN tribunal would strike down the “nine-dash line” claim of China.
The tribunal is set to issue its verdict on July 12.
“We always said that we are for a peaceful settlement of the dispute. There is no need to react aggressively. We are not aggressive with our actions. What we have done, we went to arbitration, which is considered peaceful settlement of the dispute under the UN charter. Arbitration is a friendly act so we have not done anything aggressive,” he added.
But in case the ruling would favor China, he said the Philippines would have no choice but to abide by it.
In the same way, China should abide by whatever ruling is issued by the tribunal, he said.
Asked if he would be part of President Duterte’s team in planning the country’s next step after the issuance of the ruling, he said he had not discussed the matter yet with the Chief Executive.
“But anyway my lectures are all available in the Internet… I am always available to anyone when it comes to the South China Sea,” he added.
The Department of National Defense, for its part, said it is prepared to follow whatever decision is issued by the arbitral court.
“Whatever decision is issued by the tribunal, whether it’s in favor or against us, we will follow and we hope that China will do the same,” DND Public Affairs Service director Arsenio Andolong said.
“Of course it’s up to China if they will follow. But in terms of their image, I think it will be inappropriate for a country such as theirs not to recognize the international law,” he added.
As this developed, Chinese ambassador Zhao Jinhua paid another courtesy call on Duterte yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the envoy congratulated Duterte for his election victory, but that it was not clear whether the two leaders discussed other matters including the West Philippine Sea issue.
“No further details regarding courtesy call,” Abella said.
China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea, where more than $5-trillion worth of goods passes through every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the resource-rich area.
In 2013, the Philippines filed a complaint against what it described as China’s “excessive” and “exaggerated” territorial claim before an international arbitral tribunal.
China, however, refused to recognize the case, saying it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the disputed areas.
While then president Benigno Aquino III insisted that the only way to address the maritime row is through multilateral means like arbitration, Duterte has expressed readiness to hold bilateral negotiations with China.
“We remain optimistic that the judgment will be in our favor and if it’s not, then we will accept it as part of a country who honors international commitments,” Duterte said in a speech during the Air Force’s 69th anniversary last Tuesday.
“When it’s favorable to us, let’s talk. We are not prepared to go to war. War is a dirty word now, but we will proceed accordingly after we shall have the copy of the arbitral judgment. We will always decide for the greater interest of our country,” he added.
On Wednesday, Zhao stated China is ready to respond positively to fund a railway in Mindanao and other infrastructure projects of the Duterte administration.
“It is willing to participate in the social, economic development under the new administration,” he said.
“We’ll be open to discuss the possibilities of China’s participation in specific infrastructure projects which of course include railway,” Zhao said in a chance interview on Wednesday when he attended the 240th US Independence Day reception at the Fairmont Hotel in Makati City.
“Not in exchange (for better relations). Just to have a better relationship because it’s quite natural that investment, finance are the major ingredients of good relations between China and its neighbors and relations between China and the Philippines is very much included,” he added.
“But we haven’t conducted detailed discussions on that, so we are hoping that we can do that sometime soon.”
“We’re listening to his (Duterte) interest and we are ready to respond positively,” he said.
Zhao said it is not appropriate for either side to set conditions for the resumption of bilateral dialogue and consultations on the maritime row.
“I have a good impression of the new President and the people around him and I’m quite confident that we can work together to have a better bilateral relationship that will contribute to the well-being of the peoples of both countries,” Zhao said when asked if China is happy with the new government’s handling of issues involving the two countries. – With Alexis Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude