South China Sea row ruling may be issued before May 2016 polls


DAVAO CITY — A high-ranking official of the Supreme Court said the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague is expected to issue a decision on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China before the May 2016 elections.

But at the same time, Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio warned of Beijing’s continued military buildup in the contested South China Sea.

“In four to six months, we will have a decision on the merits of the case, probably before the May 2016 elections,” said Mr. Carpio in his presentation on “The South China Sea/West Philippine Sea Dispute” at the Ateneo de Davao University on Friday.

The ruling, whether in favor of the Philippines or not, will be crucial to the next steps that would have to be taken as China’s activities in the disputed area point to a long-term plan for building up a massive military capability, Mr. Carpio said.

“Under its 2015 China Military Strategy, China will shift from offshore water defense to the combined offshore water defense and open sea protection,” he said.

Mr. Carpio said China would be a very dangerous country in the future unless it is stopped from imposing its nine-dash line claim against the Philippines and other countries in Southeast Asia.

“China’s nine-dash line claim encroaches on 80% of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone and 100% of its extended continental shelf in the South China Sea,” said Mr. Carpio.

Filipino fishermen have been reportedly been attacked by the Chinese coast guard while Chinese fishermen have encroached on areas claimed by the Philippines.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources National Director Asis G. Perez earlier confirmed the increasing fishing activities in the disputed waters, including the Benham Rise area, but not by vessels under the Philippine flag.

“The priority for us in these areas is development and protection,” Mr. Perez said.

The Philippines filed an arbitration case against China under the 1984 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is also a signatory.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, China’s navy has in recent days carried out more exercises in the disputed South China Sea, the Defense Ministry said on Sunday, calling them routine drills.

China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of maritime trade passes each year. The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

“The People’s Liberation Army Navy in recent days organized a fleet to go to relevant seas in the South China Sea, by way of the Western Pacific, to carry out exercises,” China’s Defense Ministry said in a brief statement.

“This action is a routine arrangement made in accordance with this year’s naval training plan,” it added, without elaborating.

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