Philippines sends top execs to South China Sea arbitration

7:56:00 AM
MANILA, -- A high delegation of Filipino officials will attend next week the start of the oral arguments on the Philippines's arbitration case against China, Malacañang said Friday.

In a press briefing, Deputy Presidential Abigail Valte revealed that top executives from the three government branches will fly to The Hague where a United Nations arbitral tribunal will open the arbitration court proceedings on the South China Sea dispute.

Valte said the officials include Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Justice Secretary Leila De Lima.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. is now in The Hague to meet the Philippines's lawyers, Valte said. Palace Undersecretary Emmanuel Bautista, the previous Armed Forces chief of staff, will also go there.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been holding public lectures on the sea dispute, will also join the delegation along with Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza and Solicitor General Florin Hilbay.

Valte said sending a high-level delegation "clearly shows the support of government for the case" and that the arbitration initiated by the Philippines is a "country effort."

"Really, a lot of the members of the delegation have something to contribute. These people have been part of the discussions on the dispute involving the West Philippine Sea and they would also like to see the progress of our complaint, our memorial before the tribunal," Valte said.

She noted that next week, the arbitral tribunal will first decide whether it has jurisdiction over the case filed by the Philippines.

"If the tribunal does not have jurisdiction, then it ends there. Even if it may just be a jurisdictional issue, every step of the way, every forward step that we take is important for us," the Palace official said.

The Philippines is questioning before the tribunal the excessive territorial claims of China, which has refused to participate in the proceedings while undertaking massive island-building activities in the Spratlys.

China has repeatedly criticized the Philippines for initiating international arbitration instead of holding bilateral talks to resolve the sea dispute.

On Thursday, China called the case filed by the Philippines a "political provocation," a claim denied by Malacañang.

"The statement is expected given their position not to defend their actions before the tribunal," Valte said.

"The Philippines believes that its filing is in line with our commitment to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner and one that follows and respects the rule of law," she added.

The Philippine delegation includes (clockwise from top left) Senate President Franklin Drilon, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima and former AFP Chief of Staff Manny Bautista.

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