'Arbitration victory to strengthen PH in talks with China'

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 12 2016 06:32 PM | Updated as of Jul 12 2016 07:51 PM

'Arbitration victory to strengthen PH in talks with China' 1
A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre REUTERS/Erik De Castro/File Photo

MANILA – The Philippines' victory in the case it lodged against China over the South China Sea dispute will strengthen the Southeast Asian nation's position for potential bilateral talks with the Asian giant, a militant lawmaker said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the Philippines' victory ''strengthens and solidifies'' its position in a potential bilateral talks with China, ''especially now that her expansionist nine-dash line theory is declared without legal, historical and moral basis."

In a landmark ruling, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration said that there is no legal basis to China's claims to economic rights across large swathes of the South China Sea.

The tribunal said that China's ''historic rights'' and ''nine-dash line'' claim to South China Sea had been extinguished by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) to which both the Philippines and China are signatories.

''[There] was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources. The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the 'nine-dash line,''' the PCA said in a statement.

Even before the the United Nations-backed tribunal came out with its ruling, the new administration of Rodrigo Duterte had expressed willingness to hold bilateral talks with China, a route that his predecessor Benigno Aquino III had ruled out.

The Aquino administration saw no point in holding one-on-one talks with China as the latter would not back down on its massive claims.

Zarate, a left-leaning lawmaker, urged Duterte ''to initiate further diplomatic moves to strengthen our own claims and fortify our positions, even as we engage China in mutually beneficial bilateral or multilateral talks."

The Aquino administration, which was responsible for filing the historic case against China, preferred holding multilateral talks with China where other South China Sea claimants would be involved.

The previous administration said that through a multilateral discussion, the Philippines and other smaller sea claimants would be able to put more pressure on China.

Recent pronouncements by the Duterte administration point to a possible holding of a bilateral talks with China. Appearing to soften Manila's stance, Duterte said in his first Cabinet meeting that he would like to reach a ''soft landing'' with China after the tribunal rules.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay on Tuesday sought for "restraint and sobriety" after the tribunal ruled in the Philippines' favor.

The case filed by Manila against Beijing was triggered by a naval standoff in the contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, a rocky outcrop west of Luzon considered a traditional fishing ground by Filipinos.

Beijing currently controls Scarborough and has been preventing Filipino fishermen from accessing the resources-rich area. It has also built artificial islands in waters claimed by the Philippines and other countries, triggering tension in the vital maritime route.

Beijing, which snubbed the arbitration proceedings, has said it will not follow the tribunal's ruling, even as it faces the risk of being labeled an international outlaw.

While the arbitration ruling is a victory for the Philippines, it may only be considered a moral one as the tribunal has no means of reinforcing its ruling.

The ruling, nonetheless, is considered a blow to Beijing, which is seeking to project itself as a benign superpower.