International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) Logo

MANILA (Mabuhay) — The Philippines has defied China’s opposition to bring the two nations’ long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea to an international tribunal, saying it will soon ask a United Nations-linked body to form a panel of arbiters that will hear its case against Beijing.

China on Tuesday officially rejected the Philippines’ move to let a U.N. arbitration body hear Manila’s complaint over what it calls Beijing’s “excessive” claim to the resource-rich waters. China said Manila’s case was legally infirm and carried unacceptable allegations.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Philippines has two weeks starting Feb. 21 to request the president of the Hamburg-based International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to form and complete the arbitration panel, continuing a multilateral initiative that has been opposed by China.

“The process will continue on with or without China and we are looking at three to four years to proceed through this arbitral tribunal process,” Hernandez told a press briefing.

China, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia lay claim on parts or virtually the entire contested islands, shoals and reefs in the South China Sea where undersea gas deposits have been discovered in several areas.

China prefers to negotiate one on one with other claimants, which would give it advantage because of its sheer size compared to rival claimants that are smaller and have less military force.

“Our hope is for the tribunal to declare China’s excessive nine-dash claim which encompasses practically the entire South China Sea unlawful and direct it to respect out sovereign rights ver our maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea,” Hernandez said.

China’s nine-dash line is a U-shaped map that covers nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea.

Manila initiated an arbitration process under the UNCLOS on January 21 to try to declare as “illegal” China’s nine-dash claim.

The president of ITLOS upon receipt of the Philippine request will have 30 days to form the arbitration panel, Hernandez said.

“The Philippines has been engaging China in political and diplomatic dialogues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute for the past 18 year, but with no success,” he said.

“We view the arbitration process as the most friendly, peaceful and durable option to clarify the maritime entitlements of coastal states in the South China Sea and to ensure peace and stability and freedom of navigation in the region.” (MNS)