Malacañang on Tuesday said there is no need to convene the National Security Council (NSC) to map out plans on how to deal with China’s unperturbed reclamation workS on islands and shoals within Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“At this time, the President [Benigno Aquino 3rd] does not see any need really to convene the NSC,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte told reporters.
Malacañang made the statement in reaction to a call by Sen. Francis Escudero for the President to convene the NSC. The call came as the Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., released what he said were latest satellite pictures of intense construction activities over seven reefs and shoals that are dangerously close to the Philippine mainland.
Valte said Aquino does not view the problem as an emergency, adding that the Cabinet security cluster can do the job.
“We have dealt with other national security-related issues as well as other matters through the mechanism of the security cluster. And allow me to say that you may be used to the usual members of the security cluster but from time to time, relevant agencies are asked to go or asked to participate whenever there are matters that fall under that department’s competence,” she explained.
Also on Tuesday, Beijing accused Manila of trying to drive a wedge between China and member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
China’s foreign affairs spokesman was reacting to reports that President Aquino intends to bring up the West Philippine Sea issue to this week’s Asean summit in Malaysia.
The meeting will be held in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi from April 24 to 27.
Vietnam earlier requested a bilateral meeting with the Philippines during the Asean Summit.
Hanoi wanted to forge a strategic partnership with the Philippines against China’s increasing presence at the South China Sea.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei scored the “attempt of few countries” to damage the cooperation between China and Asean “by making use of the South China Sea issue.”
He reiterated that the maritime disputes borne from competing claims among China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei Darussalam “is not an issue between China and Asean.”
Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the maritime dispute “will definitely be the priority agenda for the Philippines in Asean.”
“Keep in mind that because of the reclamation works, what is being violated is the 2002 agreement between Asean and China, [the]DOC,” he said during a news briefing also on Tuesday.
The DOC or the Declaration on the Code of Conduct was signed in 2002 by China and Asean member-countries. It aims to reduce tensions and prevent claimant-countries from acting aggressively on their claims.
“Reclamation is a very serious matter, a matter of grave concern for the country, for other claimant countries, for the region and the international community,” Jose said.
China has been reclaiming massively in Mischief, Mabini, Chigua, Calderon, Kagitingan, Zamora and Gaven reefs, which are all within the Kalayaan Island Group.
The reclamation works, Jose said, “undermine peace and stability, raise tension, cause massive and irreparable damage in marine environment and eco system.”
They are a violation of the DOC, he added, because “very clearly, [they are]intended to change the status quo and could adversely affect our arbitration case.”
In January 2013, the Philippine filed an arbitration case against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in The Hague. Manila seeks to invalidate China’s excessive and encompassing nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.