MANILA – Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison on Friday said the Philippine government is right in filing a case against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), said in a statement that it is better for Manila to make a well-grounded case before the ITLOS, especially for the long-term, than do nothing at all.
"In the first place, filing the case before ITLOS and the Arbitral Tribunal is not a violent act at all, no matter how China presents it as a hostile act. Had the Philippines desisted from filing the case, China would have certainly used the desistance as proof of a lack of conviction and interest in the case," Sison said.
He said the Philippines made the right decision in filing its case before ITLOS, and in particular the Arbitral Tribunal, as the chosen mechanism for arbitration regarding the islands or islets west of the Philippines.
Sison, who lives in exile in the Netherlands, said he does not agree with the view that the country should not have filed the case against China before ITLOS and the Arbitral Tribunal.
He dismissed speculation that the Philippines should fear retaliation from China.
He said that even after the filing of the case, it is still possible to negotiate the issue out of court, as there are more matters that require both China and the Philippines to negotiate and transact business.
Sison said that in a previous interview, he mentioned that the strongest piece of international law in favor of the Philippines is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), particularly with regard to the 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
"I even challenged the Manila government to file a case in the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea," he said.
This, as the Philippines pledged to act with restraint on Friday a week after China tried to block a boat ferrying supplies to Filipino troops on a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
"(The) Philippines makes clear that it will continue to exercise self-restraint and will not raise tension in the South China Sea," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.
He issued the statement after a week of diplomatic wrangling following a Philippine boat's delivery of food, water and fresh troops to Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), also claimed by Beijing, by slipping through a blockade by two Chinese coastguard vessels.
A small number of Filipino soldiers are stationed on a Navy vessel that was grounded on the shoal in 1999 to assert the Philippines' sovereignty.
A day after the incident, the Philippines further infuriated China by asking a United Nations tribunal to declare Beijing's claims to undisputed sovereignty over most of the strategically important sea as illegal.
China strongly criticized the Philippine government actions, warning Tuesday that the UN appeal had "seriously damaged" bilateral ties and holding Manila responsible for the "consequences" of the UN move.
"The Philippines is not the country that has greatly increased its naval and maritime presence in the South China Sea," del Rosario retorted Friday.
"Nor has it challenged freedom of navigation. Nor has it blockaded nor forcefully intimidated any other country in the South China Sea. Countries should be judged by their actions, not by their words."
China has said its coastguard turned away another Filipino vessel on a similar resupply mission early last month, forcing the Philippine military to air-drop supplies to its small unit of marines aboard an old navy ship guarding the reef.
The reef lies 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the nearest major Philippine island, and more than a thousand kilometers from a major Chinese land mass.
It is part of the Spratlys, a chain of islets and reefs that sit near key shipping lanes and are surrounded by rich fishing grounds.
Apart from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims to parts of the area.
Manila's UN appeal argues Beijing's claims are contrary to the UNCLOS and interferes with the Philippines' sovereign rights to its continental shelf.
Both countries are signatories to UNCLOS, but Beijing argues that its provisions do not apply to the row.
It has urged the Philippines to negotiate directly with it.
Del Rosario said Friday UN arbitration "is a peaceful, friendly and a durable settlement mechanism under international law" that allows the Philippines to defend "what is legitimately and rightfully ours". - with a report from Agence France-Presse