UNCLOS signatory states asked anew to respect treaty

By Helen Flores, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jun 20 2014 08:54 AM | Updated as of Jun 20 2014 04:54 PM

MANILA - The Philippines has reiterated its call for signatory states to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), including China, to respect the treaty amid rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The government made the appeal during the 24th meeting of state parties to UNCLOS in New York last week.

In the appeal, the Philippines asked state parties to preserve the integrity of the treaty and the institutions created under it, particularly those established for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

It said the “rights and duties of state parties go hand in hand” and all are “obliged to observe the treaty in its entirety.”

It cited the importance of UNCLOS in governing the rights and obligations of parties in the sustainable use of the world’s oceans and resources, and the viable mechanisms it provides for the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes.

Philippine Ambassador to the UN Libran Cabactulan said the country’s filing of a memorial or written argument before the arbitral tribunal manifests its commitment to the UNCLOS.

In a 4,000-page petition filed before the Court of Arbitration in The Hague on March 30, Manila presented its arguments and evidence against China’s nine-dash line and other aspects of Beijing’s expansive and excessive claims in the West Philippine Sea.

The tribunal has given China until Dec. 15 this year to answer the petition.

Cabactulan cited the concerns of the Philippines on unilateral actions that infringe on the country’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction as provided by the UNCLOS.

He urged China to respect international laws, including UNCLOS, and desist from actions that could alter the status quo in the West Philippine Sea.

He also asked China to exercise self-restraint in keeping with the 2002 ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Upgrade backed

An administration lawmaker has expressed support for plans to upgrade facilities in the West Philippine Sea.

Parañaque City Rep. Gustavo Tambunting said the Philippine government has every right to improve its facilities in the disputed territory, such as expanding the runway on Pag-Asa Island to help protect the country’s sovereignty and the Filipino fisherfolk.

“There is no problem with the proposed construction of a runway. That’s our territory, so we have the right to construct what is needed,” Tambunting said.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House committee on national defense and security, earlier urged the Aquino administration to consider reclamation projects on islands occupied by the country’s military forces in the disputed waters.

Biazon was a former officer of a secret Marine task force that occupied eight islands in the Spratlys in 1968.

He said such a move could be an appropriate response to the reported reclamation effort being done by China in five reefs in the disputed waters.

He said the runway on Pag-Asa Island was built through partial reclamation.

“I don’t think we will be violating the Code of Conduct or anything because we were there ahead a long time ago,” he said, referring to the 2002 declaration signed by parties to the territorial dispute including China and members of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

Aside from the Philippines and China, other claimants to parts or the whole of Spratlys are Brunei, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Of the six claimants, only Brunei does not occupy any land feature in the Spratlys.

Vietnam controls 22 islands in the disputed waters, China occupies eight, Malaysia has four, and Taiwan has a garrison on the largest island, Itu Aba.

Phl-US naval exercises set

Meanwhile, amid the rising tension in the
West Philippine Sea, the Philippines and the United States will launch this month the annual naval exercises Cooperation Afloat Readiness Training (CARAT) on Panatag Shoal off Zambales.

Lt. Junior Grade Rommel Rodriguez, spokesman for the Philippine Fleet, said the training would be participated in by at least a thousand Marine soldiers and sailors from both sides.

The naval war games, set from June 26 to July 1, will involve three US warships – the USS Halsey, a guide-missile destroyer; the USNS Ashland, a dock landing ship and USNS Safeguard, a salvage ship.

The Philippine Navy will deploy the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, a frigate, and the BRP Emilio Jacinto, one if its peacock-class patrol ships.

“There will be a lot of activities happening starting on June 26. There will be classroom style discussions on safety, maritime defense awareness, flight operations, explosive and ordnance training and amphibious operations planning,” Rodriguez said.

He said this year’s CARAT has nothing to do with the territorial dispute in the West Philippines Sea.

“CARAT, now on its 20th year, has no connection with the current Philippine-China territorial dispute,” he said. – With Paolo Romero, Jaime Laude