While he insisted that the Scarborough Shoal is a legitimate part of the Philippine territory, President Aquino said that there are no plans to remove concrete blocks allegedly placed by Chinese ships.
“We are not allowed to go to Scarborough Shoal seems to be an oxymoron. It is ours and there’s no rule that says we can’t go there,” Aquino told reporters during a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) at the Manila Hotel.
He also downplayed observations that the Philippine government has virtually lost Panatag Shoal to China, saying that Filipino fishermen can still fish in the area.
“No. Because we can still go there and we do have over-flight missions and we do monitor what is happening. Some of our fisher folk are still in that area,” he added
The Defense department earlier said that the concrete blocks could be in preparation for construction in the area.
President Aquino maintained that the concrete blocks were located 124 nautical miles off Zambales, which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EZZ).
He asked all concerned parties to adhere to the rule of law in resolving the maritime dispute.
“I’m saying that there is a legally-binding document and if you say that you adhere to international law then you should be abide by the decision as we will abide by the decision,” he added.
Meanwhile, Aquino welcomed the move of China to start discussions with Asean nations on the crafting of the code of conduct (COC) in the “sea with many names”.
“I think we should be elated that finally there has been the start of discussions, perhaps, not on the formal portion of negotiating items within the COC but we are discussing already the formulation of the COC,” he said.
“We are starting to sit down and everybody has to show that image of cooperating in crafting the COC, which will undoubtedly ease the tensions in the sea by many names,” he added. CATHERINE VALENTE