PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday said he will defend the country’s territories in 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 in Silang, Cavite.
He cited Article 2, Section 7, of the Constitution which provides: “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, what are our choices here? Ayungin [Second Thomas] Shoal is clearly within the 200 [-nautical mile] EEZ [exclusive economic zone]that is granted to us by Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea],” Aquino said.
He added that under Unclos, “every coastal state has certain entitlements and rights.” On Sunday, the Philippines submitted a “memorial” to the United Nations questioning China’s nine-dash line policy that claims the entire West Philippine Sea, even islets and shoals that are well within the Philippines’ EZZ.
A United Nations arbitral tribunal is hearing the case that the Philippines filed against China in January 2013.
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 to make sure: Who is entitled to what? What are the rights of each one? What are the obligations of every state?” the President added.
He clarified that the government never intended to “provoke China into any action.”
“We are not here to challenge China . . . I do believe that they should recognize we
have the right to defend our own interests,” Aquino pointed out.
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 added.
He said the filing of the memorial or memorandum against China was done after a consensus was reached among leaders of Congress and the Cabinet.
The President 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 is championing a Code of Conduct under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The code was first pushed in 2002 but has been virtually shelved since.
Also on Monday, the United States renewed its support to the Philippines’ move to bring its territorial disputes with China before an international tribunal, calling it a “peaceful means” to resolving maritime row.
Washington’s statement of support issued by the US State Department came after Manila submitted on March 30 the 4,000-page memorial containing an array of legal evidence and maps that will bolster its case against China.
“The United States reaffirms its support for the exercise of peaceful means to resolve maritime disputes without fear of any form of retaliation, including intimidation or coercion,” the State Department statement said.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also claimants to the resource-rich waters of the West Philippine Sea, a major trade route.
Beijing has refused to participate in the legal process.
Philippine legislators, meanwhile, lauded Filipino soldiers who recently managed to elude the Chinese blockade on their way to Ayungin Shoal.
Party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption and Rep. Walden Bello of Akbayan were referring to the group from Philippine Marines and Coast Guard that navigated a Philippine ship away from the Chinese blockade en route to providing supplies to their comrades aboard BRP Sierra Madre, which guards Ayungin Shoal.
A Chinese ship repeatedly tried but failed to shoo away the Filipinos.
With Llanesca T. Panti and PNA