Notwithstanding a recent report that Chinese vessels drove away a Filipino fishing boat in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), Foreign Secretary Jose Rene Almendras on Monday refused to raise the issue in his meeting with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.
In his first news conference prior to the meeting, Almendras said it was the Chinese Embassy who requested the courtesy call and they have the right to decide what agenda should be discussed.
According to a report, rubber boats of the Chinese Coast Guard rammed and damaged a boat carrying 11 Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal on March 5 and 6.
“Well, I cannot bring it up with the Chinese Ambassador because I don’t have a verification. We are still waiting for the official report. I’m not saying that the Filipino fishermen are lying or what, it’s just that we have procedures and protocols before we start a certain action,” Almendras told reporters, adding that the DFA has already requested the incident to be validated.
While he refused to disclose details of the issues tackled with the Chinese envoy, Almendras said that the meeting was not unusual and he has a “personal relationship” with Zhao.
“This is a regular working day in the DFA. It’s nothing unusual. It’s nothing special,” he said.
Almendras said he hopes to strengthen the country’s relationship with China and make sure that the West Philippine Sea dispute will not burn the bridges between the two countries.
He said he will adopt a principle-based foreign policy and there is no need to change anything in the DFA, with the well-being of Filipinos abroad still the top priority.
“There should be a consistent foreign policy. Government should not make drastic changes because consistency is important,” Almendras said.