CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – While the Philippine government has taken its claim of its territories in Philippine Western Sea (South China Sea) to the United Nations Conventions of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), it will not hurt if it will also take its claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is really “the body to arbitrate on sovereign territorial rights.”
Arnedo Valera, Migrant Heritage Commission co-executive director and international/human rights lawyer, based in Fairfax, Virginia, gave his piece of mind during the Talakayan sa Embahada (Discussion at the Embassy) sponsored by the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. in response to the presentations made by Henry Sicad Bensurto, Jr. and Renato Cruz de Castro.
According to Valera, territorial ownership rights will never be resolved “in our lifetime” hence MHC is proposing that the Philippine government initiate the creation of an economic resource development body among these claimant nations in order to create a “win-win” situation where resources are developed and shared by the states.
“We have to get real with our capability as a nation. Our strength is to form a collective of nations which can include the US, Japan, Australia, and other countries and establish mutually agreed principles how to manage rich resources in the South China Sea.
“The bottom line is the use of these resources in the South China Sea to benefit mankind. Hence, these conflicting claims must actually translate to cooperation for economic development in the region. The win-win situation is an operational and tested concept based on justice and sovereign equality,” said Valera.
MHC co-executive director and former Philippine Embassy cultural officer Grace Valera said, “we need to be well-informed and insightful in order to push the Spratlys issue in the right direction.”
At the same time, MHC said that the Philippine government needs to make a definite stance in claiming Sabah in north Borneo, Malaysia. “As it is now, the Philippines is not giving attention to the human rights violations committed by Malaysian government to the displaced Filipinos in Sabah,” said Valera.
In his presentation, Dr. Abrahan Tillah Rasul, gave the audience a historical perspective on how the Sultanate of Sulu has obtained sovereign territorial claims over Sabah. He said that because the people relied on western documentations, western authors have interpreted “pajak” as cession of Sabah to the British government.
“In the parlance of the locals, pajak actually means rent, to which the British Company paid the Sultanate about $5,000 a year based on the incomes of the Sultan from pearls and birds nests. We did not cede the land to the British, we only rented it out,” said Rasul, whose father is one of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu.
“We are rich in history, but poor in wealth,” said Rasul in closing.
Valera said that claiming Sabah based on sovereignty rights also means economic opportunities for the people and the Philippine government. At present, there are about 800,000 indigenous Filipinos living and working in Sabah. He called the Aquino government to claim Sabah and protect its citizens.
Bensurto said that the Philippine government has submitted on January 22, 2013 a petition for arbitration before the UN to settle the matter using the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS). Bensurto is former Secretary-general of the Secretariat of the Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs, a cabinet level inter-agency coordinating body on the Law of the Sea and other maritime issues.
In a presentation called “The Rule of Law: Path to Durable Peace in the South China Sea,” Bensurto postulated that the UNCLOS must be the instrument to prevail, and not sovereignty rights which will only allow China to use “real politic” in its claims on the islands. He said that the arbitration approach “is moving” to the favor of the Philippines.
Valera, in response to the presentation, said that the MHC is not against compulsory arbitration by the UN through the UNCLOS, but this should not be limited to such instrumentality.
“There are five claimants to the Spratlys groups of islands and using the UNCLOS alone will never resolve such ownership because of the convoluted claims. MHC, however, maintains that the Kalayaan group of islands as well as other islands, which are part of its 200 nautical miles territory rightfully, belongs to the Philippines and must thus be protected. But in the same manner, the Philippines should invoke the territorial sovereign rights based on acts of discovery, occupation, and on certain inferred rights over continental shelf delimitation.”
While China had been claiming sovereignty in the South China Sea, including the Spratlys, based on discovery and occupation, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei have likewise made their own claims.
This, according to Valera, gives it more reason to invoke the sovereignty rights as well as UNCLOS to be able to see things on a larger picture. “If we use the UNCLOS alone, the convoluted territorial claims will never be resolved. The body to arbitrate on sovereign territorial rights would be the International Court of Justice. All the Philippines should do is to ask one more claimant country to have the petition tried before the international court,” he said.