Analyst: PH not out of the woods in arbitration case

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The Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands is the seat of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — An international maritime law expert believes that the Arbitral Tribunal's decision to continue hearing the case on the sea dispute between China and the Philippines is a good sign — but is still no assurance of a victory.

Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea said that the Philippines has just made the first hurdle in its arbitration case against China.

He said it is good that the Permanent Court of Arbitration did not throw out any of the Philippines' arguments.

However, it only so far declared jurisdiction over identifying the maritime entitlements of land features in the disputed waters, and certain alleged acts of aggression by China against Filipino fishermen.

But on the more important questions of China's so called historical claims and its nine-dashed line, the tribunal apparently sees them as a gray area.

Batongbacal said that the legal team led by Solicitor General Florin Hilbay and lawyer Paul Reichler will have to argue even more strongly at the next round of hearings, because they will have to hit two birds with one stone: establish that the tribunal has jurisdiction over them, and at the same time prove the merits of the Philippines' claim.

Now, in relation to U.S. patrols in the disputed areas, Batongbacal said that the tribunal's decision is a step closer to giving the action legitimacy.

It also means the international community can look to the tribunal for a legitimate position on the issue.

He added that the tribunal takes these developments on the ground into account. Their decision to take on the case may be an effort to stop the worsening tensions among claimant nations and international stakeholders.

The professor said that this case can still make a turn towards the Philippines' disadvantage, in case the Arbitral Tribunal rules against Manila's claims versus Beijing's.

The Philippine government has promised to abide by the tribunal's decision, no matter which way it goes.

CNN Philippines' JC Gotinga contributed to this report.