PHL welcomes intl observers to tribunal case vs China

By Michaela del Callar

MANILA, Nov. 25 (PNA) — The Philippines on Wednesday welcomed the participation of seven countries, which include Australia and two South China Sea claimants, as observers to witness the hearings by the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on the Philippines’ case that seeks to invalidate China’s massive sea claim.

Judicial proceedings are not open to the public, but the court has allowed Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam to witness the proceedings upon their request.

“The number of observers at the oral hearing reflects the keen interest of the internatioal community in the arbitration case, which is a major contribution of the Philippines to the maintainance of an international order based on the rule of law,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.

The South China Sea – a major shipping route – are contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China and Taiwan. Natural gas, undersea oil deposits and rich mineral reserves were found in several areas.

Manila filed a case against on January 22, 2013.

China has snubbed the proceedings, saying it does not recognize Manila’s case, calling it baseless and lacking in legal merit.

The five-member Arbitral Tribunal is chaired by Judge Thomas A. Mensah of Ghana. Other members are Judge Jean-Pierre Cot of France, Judge Stanislaw Pawlak of Poland, Professor Alfred Soons of the Netherlands, and Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum of Germany.

Jose said the hearing will end on or before November 30 and a final decision is expected sometime in 2016. (PNA)