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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATED 5:18PM) The Philippines' decision to bring before a United Nations (UN) tribunal its disagreement with China got backing Wednesday from lawmakers, who said it was time to seek the intervention of a higher body to resolve the territorial dispute.
Relatedly, Malacanang Palace said it was confident the filing of the case will not harm Philippine-China relations.
Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, in a statement, also said the decision of the Philippines to file a case against China is an expression of President Aquino’s commitment to protect Philippine sovereignty. He urged China to recognize the jurisdiction of the UN body, saying this would help advance peace and harmony in the ASEAN region.
“President Aquino is committed to protect our sovereignty and is likewise committed to resolving the dispute with China in a peaceful manner. I am hopeful that China, in the interest of greater peace and harmony in the region, would recognize the jurisdiction of the UN arbitration tribunal in accordance with international law,” he added.
Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said the move was "very reasonable" in the light of the "increasingly brazen activities of China such as the construction of an airstrip."
"When it comes to our sovereignty, we will always side with our President and his decisions," Suarez said in a news conference.
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario announced that the Philippine government, “having exhausted” all possible means to get China to behave responsibly on the issue, has brought the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) disputes with China before an Arbitral Tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for a "peaceful resolution."
Del Rosario had said that the Department of Foreign Affairs had notified China of its decision, which "initiates the arbitral proceedings under Article 287 and Annex VII" of the 1982 UNCLOS.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casino said Wednesday the complaint before the UNCLOS was "long overdue."
"We just hope that this case is airtight. We must continuously assert our sovereignty and follow this through until China respects our right to these territories," Casino said.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said the DFA should be allowed to hire top-caliber lawyers and experts on international law to fortify the country's position against China. He also called on all sectors to rally behind the government in this move.
Palace: UNCLOS case won’t harm PH-China ties
Malacañang has expressed confidence that the filing of a case against China before the arbitral tribunal of the UNCLOS will not mar bilateral relations between Manila and Beijing.
"This is not the end-all and be-all of Philippines-China relations. We have an active engagement with China in other matters, in other fields, and so we abstract this issue of the West Philippine Sea from our relations as whole and we believe that we can continue to move forward in our people-to-people engagement, in our trade relations with China," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Wednesday in an interview aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
"This matter has been given over to the international tribunal and we’ll let the international tribunal decide on this matter. This is not the crux of our RP-China relations," he added.
The Vice President emphasized that the dispute “should not define our relations with China, considering the historic and cultural ties that bind our two nations.”
“A peaceful resolution, under the purview of international law, would be in the best interest of both countries and the ASEAN region,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary del Rosario personally advised Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing on Tuesday about the country's decision.
Del Rosario said the legal action against China "is an operationalization of President (Benigno) Aquino III’s policy for a peaceful and rules-based resolution of disputes in the WPS in accordance with international law specifically UNCLOS."