SolGen prioritizes sea row over condo dispute

Photo of the Rizal Monument with Torre de Manila (already 19 floors high) rising behind it, taken on August 20, 2014. Photo from the Office of Sen. Pia Cayetano

Photo of the Rizal Monument with Torre de Manila (already 19 floors high) rising behind it, taken on August 20, 2014. Photo from the Office of Sen. Pia Cayetano

MANILA (Mabuhay) – Solicitor General Florin Hilbay has asked the Supreme Court to push back the oral arguments on Torre de Manila since he is busy preparing for a “more crucial” hearing in the Netherlands to defend the Philippine claim over the South China Sea.

The Supreme Court set the oral debates on a petition to demolish the 46-storey condominium on June 30.

However, Hilbay says from July 7 to 13, he will face an international arbitration tribunal to convince its members on the jurisdiction and admissibility of the Philippine claims over the sea dispute.

In his manifestation, Hilbay requested that the Office of the Solicitor General be given an additional 30 days from June 30 to adequately prepare for the oral arguments in the Torre de Manila case. As a result, oral debates for that should be reset to a date after the extension, he added.

Hilbay said he is “presently undertaking very important arrangements and other pre-hearing preparation in order to ensure that the interest of the republic is best pursued and protected.”

Hilbay is the Philippine legal representative in the proceedings, while the country’s legal counsel is Paul Reichler of Foley and Hoag LLP. Lawyers would be accompanied by other Philippine officials, mainly from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Hilbay said that prior to flying to the Hague, he has to collaborate with members of his official delegation and give instructions to Reichler who will defend Philippine’s case before the tribunal.

“It is indispensable that he and his team be allowed all the time between now and the hearings to make the necessary preparations to protect the national interest in this case of grave importance,” read the manifestation.

“The importance of this arbitration and the nature of the issues involved require that the solicitor general be fully prepared to make authoritative, intelligent, and informed decisions during the conduct of the hearings,” he said.

The hearing is deemed crucial as the five-man tribunal, operating under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, will determine if Manila’s complaint has legal merit and if the court has jurisdiction over it.

It will be the first time that the tribunal will discuss the case in the presence of Philippine government representatives and its legal team.

China, which does not recognize Manila’s case, has declared several times that it will not participate in the proceedings.

Manila sought arbitration in January 2013 to try to declare as illegal China’s massive claim over the South China Sea, which included areas within the resource-rich waters that fall under Philippine territory.

In his manifestation, Hilbay acknowledged the “important historical and cultural implications” of the Torre de Manila case, and so he and his team should be given more time to prepare for the case while they meet with the  government agencies involved in the condominium dispute.

Last week, the Supreme Court ordered the suspension of construction on the condominium due to complaints that it mars the vista or visual corridors of the Rizal Monument in Luneta. (MNS)

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