A Sri Lankan member of a United Nations five-man tribunal that will hear the Philippines’ complaint over what it call’s China’s “excessive” claim to the resource-rich South China Sea has resigned, disclosing that his wife is a Filipino, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in the Philippines said on Friday.
In a letter addressed to Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza dated May 6, 2013, Judge Chris Pinto of Sri Lanka stepped down as judge of the Arbitral Tribunal, citing his wife is a Filipino national, Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told a press briefing.
“The resignation of Judge Pinto will not affect the procedure of the arbitral proceedings,” Hernandez said.
He said the Philippines is prepared to present its case once the fifth judge to replace Pinto is appointed by International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or Itlos President Shunji Yanai and soon as the panel advises Manila to meet on the case.
“The Solicitor General acknowledged the disclosure statement and requested the President thru a letter dated May 27, 2013 to name another judge to ensure the impartiality of the arbitral proceedings,” Hernandez said.
Jardeleza also asked Yanai to “assure that any Award that might be rendered in these proceedings is accorded the full degree of respect to which it is entitled, and is as safe as possible from attack by anyone who might be motivated to undermine it.”
The Itlos President has 30 days to make the appointment of his replacement.
“We expect the replacement judge within June,” Hernandez said.
The Philippines is locked in a long-running dispute with China over the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims over the waters where undersea gas deposist have been discovered in several areas.
Manila took a bold step when it initiated an arbitration process under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS on January 21 to try to declare as “illegal” China’s nine-dash claim, which covers nearly the entire resource-rich waters, where some parts are called by the Philippines as West Philippine Sea.
China has resisted the Philippines’ move to let a U.N. body intervene in the disputes, saying the Philippines’ case was legally infirm and carried unacceptable allegations.
UNCLOS is a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states. The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty.
It also allows member-states to seek legal remedy on territorial disputes through mediation.
Manila insisted that arbitration is “a peaceful and durable form of dispute settlement pursuant to international law.”
China, which frowns upon efforts to involve a third party in the disputes, prefers to negotiate one on one with other claimants which would give it advantage because of its sheer size compared to rival claimants which are smaller and have less military force. (GMA News)