By Renato Cruz De Castro
July 12, 2016 is the date which will live in the annals of history as the triumph of international law over gunboat diplomacy. Exactly a year ago, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was invoked to mediate in the brewing dispute between the Philippines and China over conflicting maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea. Defying all expectations, Manila won a near unanimous victory, scoring in 14 out of its 15 claims against Beijing.
On the first anniversary of the ruling, July 12, 2017, the Stratbase ADR Institute will hold a forum titled “The Framework Code of Conduct, One Year After Arbitration.” The by-invitation forum will feature insights from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Justice Antonio Carpio, Dr. Jay Batongbacal, former national security adviser Roilo Golez, Dr. Ginnie Bacay-Watson and Mr. Koichi Ai, in addition to Ambassador Albert del Rosario.
Highlights of the victory
The PCA affirmed that China’s nine-dashed line has no basis in international law. The court ruled that the Spratly Islands cannot sustain human habitation despite the fact that small groups of fishermen and several fishing and guano mining enterprises utilized some of its land features in the past. Furthermore, members of the tribunal noted that the maintenance personnel deployed in modern installations continue to depend on external resources for subsistence. Given these facts on the ground, the court arrived at the verdict that these features are incapable of generating extended maritime zones.
Moreover, the PCA ruled that China’s island construction projects, installation of facilities in the seven features of Spratly Islands such as Mischief Reef, illegal prevention of Filipinos from conducting fishing activities in the surrounding area, and interference with oil and gas exploration at the Reed Bank constitute a blatant infringement Philippine sovereign rights.
The court also noted that the scale and sophistication of such projects caused irreversible damage to the marine environment. This rendered China guilty of violating the rights and obligations of nations on properly utilizing the ocean. In sum, these decisions invalidated China’s so-called “historic rights” over the West Philippine Sea, thereby clarifying the maritime entitlements and setting a precedent for peaceful resolution of the disputes.
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