The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has maintained that the Triple Action Plan (TAP), which the Philippines introduced at the United Nations (UN), aims to calm the tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), not aggravate it, as China claims.
In a recent interview with Senate reporters, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the TAP was crafted precisely to see if the situation in the West Philippine Sea can be settled peacefully.
The plan calls for the cessation of activities that escalate tension in WPS; the effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC), expeditious completion of the code of conduct (COC); and arbitration.
China is claiming all of the West Philippine Sea, and has backed up its claim by occupying islets, reefs and shoals well within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The dispute has seen confrontations between Philippine and Chinese naval vessels.
Del Rosario was reacting to China’s recent opposition to the Philippine decision to rally UN support for the plan.
China insisted that the plan will only complicate and aggravate the situation in the area where the Philippines, China and other countries have overlapping claims.
Beijing said if it is implemented, the TAP will damage the sanctity and efficacy of the UN charter and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea that promotes peace and stability in Southeast Asia.
China said if the Philippines was sincere in settling the sea row peacefully, it should drop international arbitration and return to the first step in the plan, which is the cessation of activities in the West Philippine Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quoted as saying the behavior of the Philippines contradicts its own proposal.
But del Rosario said China misinterpreted the Philippine intent. “We didn’t say that it would be done in steps because we are already there [arbitration]. What we are trying to do is we are trying to address the escalating tension.”
He added that the Philippines had already taken steps to ease tension in the disputed waters by putting on hold construction work on Pag-asa island.
Del Rosario said although the Philippines is allowed to carry out improvement, maintenance, it decided against pursuing them in the exercise of self-restraint.
“We try to assume a moral high ground, we are saying that okay, until such time that the arbitration comes down, maybe we should not pursue this [Pagasa improvements],” he added.