MANILA – (2nd UPDATE) The Philippines hailed on Tuesday an international court’s favorable decision on its arbitration case against China and called for “restraint and sobriety.”
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) issued a “unanimous award” to the Philippines, which had sought clarity on its rights to exploit its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, portions of which are held by China.
“Our experts are studying the award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto yasay Jr. said just minutes after the Hague-based court released its ruling.
“In the meantime, we call on those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety,” Yasay said.
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Beijing rejected the verdict. It has refused to participate in the proceedings, insisting that the tribunal had no jurisdiction over what China believes is a dispute over territory.
It also argued that the dispute should be settled by negotiations, not by a third-party tribunal.
“The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea,” he said.
The case was initiated in 2014 by former President Benigno Aquino, who relinquished power to incumbent Rodrigo Duterte last June 30.
Duterte had said he would work for a “soft landing” with China after the ruling, which was being discussed at a Cabinet meeting in Manila Tuesday evening.
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Tuesday’s landmark decision was the first legal challenge against China’s expansive claims to the resource-rich waters that put it in conflict with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
“The Philippines reiterates its abiding commitment to efforts of pursuing the peaceful resolution and management of disputes, with the view of promoting and enhancing peace and stability in the region,” Yasay said.
The court, which operates under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), does not rule on matters of sovereignty. It also does not have enforcement powers.
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Yasay said over the weekend that the Philippines would negotiate with China based on the court ruling.
As the court heard the case in The Hague, China asserted its claim by building massive structures fit for military use on reefs in the Spratlys.
Beijing has also held Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground since a tense naval standoff ended in 2012.