BY JOEL M. SY EGCO SENIOR REPORTER
PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday said he will defend the country’s territories at the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) at all costs but will continue to exhaust all peaceful means to resolve disputes with China.
“I subscribed to this oath when I assumed office. I have to defend national territory and our sovereignty,” the president said in an interview at the sidelines of the Philippine National Police Academy graduation.
The chief executive cited Article 2, Section 7 of the Constitution which provides that: “The state shall pursue an independent foreign policy and in its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.”
“So, ano ba ang choices natin talaga dito? Iyong Ayungin Shoal is clearly within the 200 EEZ that is granted to us by UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea]. UNCLOS sinubukan na may rules-based, na every coastal state has certain entitlements and rights,” Mr. Aquino said.
On Sunday, the government has submitted a “memorial” to the United Nations questioning China’s nine-dash line territorial policy that encroached on islets and shoals that are well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EZZ).
On Saturday, two Chinese Coast Guard ships tried to block the path of a Philippine civilian ship transporting food and supplies to soldiers stationed at Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal.
A UN arbitral tribunal is hearing the case the Philippines brought against China in January 2013 under the Unclos.
Aquino said the country went through arbitration “primarily because that is a means to resolve the dispute” in conformity with international law.
“What we are trying to resolve is siguraduhin: Who is entitled to what? What are rights of each one? What are the obligations of every state?” the president emphasized.
Aquino also clarified that the government never intended to “provoke China into any acrion.”
“We are not here to challenge China… I do believe that they should recognize we have the right to defend our own interests,” he pointed out.
With regard to the filing of the memorial, Aquino said he would not jump the gun on the tribunal handling the case. But he said the move was done after a consensus was reached among leaders of Congress and the Cabinet.
“I emphasize [there was]consensus. Nobody objected that this is the right course to do, okay. I think we invited also the judiciary but the judiciary begged off saying that there might be questions and challenges later on,” President Aquino further stressed.
He also explained that arbitration was one of the two main steps the country is taking to protect its territories in the disputed Spratlys. The other one being championing a Code of Conduct under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The code of conduct was first pushed in 2002 but it was virtually placed in the back burner.
Aquino also commended the Marine personnel who were stationed at Ayungin Shoal and the group that brought supplies to them last Saturday.
“I should pay special tribute to the men of the AFP. We have men who had to be provisioned in Ayungin Shoal. They accomplished the mission without, I believe, parang increasing the tension and did it in a way na didn’t pose a threat to any other country… again consistent with the peaceful approach,” explained the president.
He said China would understand why the Philippines had to resort to arbitration.
“We can reiterate if they were in our position –in the reverse –would they have acted differently?… Will they willingly just forego their interests here? I don’t think so,” Aquino pointed out.