Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lawmakers: Philippines can go to UN if diplomacy fails to resolve Scarborough standoff

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines can go to the United Nations should diplomatic efforts fail to resolve its standoff with China after vessels of both countries have refused to budge from a territory they both claim. 

If necessary, the Philippines can bring the case before the international body since the issue involved violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone and Citizens' Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) partylist Representative Sherwin Tugna proposed on Thursday. 

Bayan Muna partylist Representative Neri Colmenares said the country can invoke the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which enjoins all parties "to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea."

The lawmakers offered the proposal to go to the United Nations, a day after the Philippines' only frigate--the BRP Gregorio del Pilar--was blocked by two Chinese surveillance ships at Scarborough Shoal, a chain of reefs and islands 220 kilometers west of Zambales. 

The Philippine ship was supposed to apprehend the crew and cargo of eight Chinese boats caught fishing in a territory that the Chinese claim as its own. 

“From all indications, the Chinese are hell-bent in intruding on our territory to get to our resources especially natural gas, fisheries and others, we must ensure that we will continue to defend what is ours,” Colmenares said. 

Evardone said Philippine officials should be able to find peaceful and diplomatic means to resolve the standoff without giving up the country’s legal claims over Scarborough Shoal. 
“If necessary, the UN should step in because what is violated by the Chinese fishermen is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The UN should assert that its international laws should be observed and respected by member-nations,” Evardone said. 

Tugna said that while the government should set a timeline on dealing with China through negotiations. 

“Give it two or three formal sit-down negotiations, and if the parties do not arrive at an agreement, then we can file a case in the UN against China,” he said. 

Tugna also enjoined all Filipinos to back the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard who are in the frontlines of guarding the country’s territory in the disputed area.

“Our Navy and Coast Guard need all the help they can in these dangerous times. We are fully aware that our Armed Forces are no match to the mighty (People’s Liberation Army), but we need to take a stand and show the whole world that we won’t take any intrusion into our rightful territories sitting down,” he said. 

In a separate statement, the Kabataan partylist said the previous Arroyo administration should be blamed for passing the Baselines law that merely considered the Scarborough Shoal as a “regime of islands” under the UNCLOS, rather than declaring it part of the country’s territorial waters.

“By declaring the Scarborough Shoal as a mere regime of islands, the country had effectively lost full sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan Group of Islands, thus subjecting our claim over these islands to mere diplomatic resolution,” lawyer Terry Ridon, the group’s spokesperson, said.

"We are thus constrained to merely explore and exploit the resources found therein, instead of being able to exercise full political, economic and military sovereignty over these waters,” he added.

Ridon said that the Arroyo administration fully knew that they had passed the law from a position of weakness and fear of China, instead of valiantly staking the country’s historical claim over these islands.

He said the Baselines Law should be repealed “to restore full sovereignty over these islands and water.”

Enacted into law in March 2009, Republic Act 9522 or the Baselines law defined the country’s territorial waters.

The law treats the disputed Spratlys Islands and Scarborough Shoal, as a "regime of islands" under the Republic of the Philippines, despite the strong protest lodged by China, one of several claimants.

Beijing then said the provision on the “regime of islands” violated its sovereignty.