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Tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines

Atty. Aurora A. Santiago
Duc in Altum


Atty. Aurora SantiagoThe Permanent Court of Arbitration (the Tribunal) ruled in favor of the Philippines in the dispute between China and the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). It was released on July 12, 2016 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), “a coastal state needs to have land before they can claim rights to the sea. The international treaty has been signed and ratified by both the Philippines and China.”

China asserts it has ‘indisputable sovereignty’ and ‘historic rights’ to over two-thirds of the 3.5 million square kilometers South China Sea using its “nine-dash line” claim that overlaps with the UNCLOS-mandated 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The line, encircling an area roughly the size of Mexico, overlaps territories claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines, on the other hand, claims that China’s assertion cannot be used to define sea borders since South China Sea is mostly sea, there is no land mass or clumps of islands and rocks large enough to generate sea borders that will span the over 2 million square kilometers China is claiming with its nine-dash line.

The Philippines brought the issue to the International Tribunal for decision when China did massive land reclamation in the West Philippine Sea near the Spratly Islands, turning submerged reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military equipment and structures.

In its decision, the Tribunal stated that UNCLOS does not recognize artificial islands and states that these are not entitled to a 12 nautical mile territorial sea nor a 200 nautical miles of EEZ.

We are quoting below the key points of the Tribunal’s verdict on Philippines-China dispute:

Historic Rights and the ‘Nine-Dash Line–The Tribunal ruled that “China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’. Such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with EEZ provided by the UNCLOS. The Tribunal noted that, although 2 Chinese navigators and fishermen, and those of other States, had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea, there was no evidence that China historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources.”

Status of Features–The Tribunal noted that “the reefs have been heavily modified by land reclamation and construction”. The UNCLOS classifies features on their natural condition, found historical evidence more relevant and “noted that Spratly Islands were historically used by small groups of fishermen and that several Japanese fishing and guano mining enterprises were attempted. The Tribunal concluded that such transient use does not constitute inhabitation by a stable community and that all of the historical economic activity had been extractive. Accordingly, the Tribunal concluded that none of the Spratly Islands is capable of generating extended maritime zones and declares that certain sea areas are within the EEZ of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.”

Lawfulness of Chinese Actions–The Tribunal ruled that “since certain areas are within the EEZ of the Philippines, China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its EEZ by (a) interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, (b) constructing artificial islands and (c) failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone. The Tribunal also held that fishermen from the Philippines (like those from China) had traditional fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and that China had interfered with these rights in restricting access.”
The Tribunal also ruled that Chinese law enforcement vessels had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels.

Harm to Marine Environment–The Tribunal further held that China’s large scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands had caused great damage to “the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species. The Tribunal also noted that Chinese fishermen harvested endangered sea turtles, coral, and giant clams on a substantial scale using methods that inflict severe damage on the coral reef environment and had not fulfilled their obligations to stop such activities.”

Aggravation of Dispute–The Tribunal found that “it lacked jurisdiction to consider the implications of a stand-off between Philippine marines and Chinese naval and law enforcement vessels at Second Thomas Shoal, holding that this dispute involved military activities and was therefore excluded from compulsory settlement. The Tribunal found, however, that China’s recent large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands was incompatible with the obligations on a State during dispute resolution proceedings, insofar as China has inflicted irreparable harm to the marine environment, built a large artificial island in the Philippines’ EEZ, and destroyed evidence of the natural condition of features in the South China Sea that formed part of the Parties’ dispute.”



President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will deliver his 1st State of the Nation Address (SONA). We hope that he will detail out the plans and programs to eradicate illegal drug problems, crimes and corruption especially in the NAIA, DOTC, Bureau of Customs, BIR, Land Registration Administration and SSS; solve housing and poverty problems; give more jobs; improve health programs; and modernize the military and police.



We request prayers for Fr. Adrian Magnait, Vicar for Lay Organizations and Renewal Movements and Vicar for Media Ministry of the Diocese of Kalookan, who is undergoing angioplasty or surgical repair or unblocking of a blood vessel, especially a coronary artery. Happy Birthday to Fr. Alberto “Abet” Caballero and Marilou Reyes, both of the Diocese of Kalookan.

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