MANILA, Philippines - The International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea has named a judge from Ghana to replace the recently resigned Sri Lankan member of a United Nations five-man arbitral tribunal set up to hear the Philippines' complaint over China's territorial claims in the South China Sea, a Philippine official said Tuesday.
Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, said Ghanaian judge Thomas Mensah has been named to replace Sri Lankan Judge Chris Pinto.
Pinto removed himself from the tribunal on May 6 to avoid potential accusations of conflict of interest because he is married to a Filipino woman.
The five members of the tribunal under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea were appointed in April with Pinto serving as president.
Mensah will serve as president of the arbitral tribunal, which will determine whether it can acquire jurisdiction over the Philippine complaint and proceed to look into Manila's case.
The other four judges are Rudiger Wolfrum of Germany, Stanislaw Pawlak of Poland, Jean-Pierre Cot of France and Alfred Soons of the Netherlands.
"The five-member arbitral tribunal will now organize itself and establish its own rules and regulations," Hernandez said.
The Philippines filed its Notification and Statement of Claims against China last Jan. 22 in a bid to resolve the two countries' territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
China has rejected the Philippine move which Beijing sees as a "political provocation under the disguise of legal procedures."
At the ASEAN senior officials meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei earlier this month, a diplomat said China had asked the Philippines to drop the case.
Manila has ignored Beijing's plea, saying compulsory arbitration is imperative to counter China's expansive "9-dash line" claim in the South China Sea.
Manila insisted that arbitration is "a peaceful and durable form of dispute settlement pursuant to international law."
"We have everything to gain in this legal exercise, we have nothing to lose," a Philippine diplomat told Kyodo News, adding the Philippines' filing of the arbitration case is consistent with its rules-based approach to the South China Sea dispute.
"Arbitration is not an unfriendly act but a peaceful way of resolving disputes," the diplomat said.
The islets, reefs, shoals and cays in the South China Sea are claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.