THE PHILIPPINES will pursue efforts to rally the international community in getting China to honor international law amid competing claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said on Monday.
Manila, however, is not keen on further escalating the issue such as by haling Beijing anew to arbitration.
In a roundtable discussion with editors, columnists and reporters of The Manila Times, Yasay said the Philippines, as a small and “weak” nation, could only count on the global community to put more pressure on China.
“If we are a strong country, maybe the equation is different. But you know, this is the reality that we have to face: our defense will be gobbled up by superpowers like China that has a history of being a bully,” he said.
On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s so-called nine-dash line, its basis for claiming almost the entire South China Sea.
Citing the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), the tribunal upheld the Philippines’ rights to areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which includes Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank.
China, however, is firm in rejecting the ruling and has beefed up military construction in the hotly contested Kalayaan (Spratly) islands. China has also been turning away Filipino fishermen attempting to fish at Panatag Shoal.
Lukewarm on new case
Unlike China, the Philippines will not take any action that will lead to greater tension, such as filing another case against Beijing as suggested by legal experts, Yasay said.
Yasay said filing another case against China would only “raise questions” and “revive issues” that have already been decided by the tribunal.
“While it is something that we should study and consider … I would like to make sure that because we already have a ruling in so far as our EEZ right under Unclos is concerned, I want to make sure that the ruling of the tribunal will be implemented,” he said.
In a forum at De La Salle University in Manila last week, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio urged the government to seek monetary damages from China over irreparable maritime destruction in the resource-rich waters.
Yasay suggested that other countries explore that route. “We don’t want to engage China in any provocative action that will heighten the tension,” he said.
‘Easiest to resolve’
Yasay disclosed that he had talked to Chinese officials about Filipino fishermen’s access to Panatag Shoal, a matter that he deemed “the easiest to resolve.”
“We feel very strongly that China has no basis in preventing our fishermen from fishing in that area in the same way that we cannot prevent the Chinese and Vietnamese fishing there as part of traditional fishing grounds,” he said.
“We have personally raised this concern with the Chinese and we told them that this is completely unacceptable to us,” he added.
Six to eight Chinese coast guard vessels surround Panatag to prevent foreigners from fishing.
This has to be continuously protested with the use of diplomacy, Yasay said.
FVR trip’s ‘personal’
The Cabinet official also said Friday’s Hong Kong trip by former President Fidel Ramos, the country’s special envoy to China, was a “personal” and “private” trip in which he was not authorized to make any commitments.
Along with former Interior secretary Rafael Alunan 3rd and China expert Chito Santa Romana, Ramos met with “old friends” Fu Ying, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress and former Chinese ambassador to Manila, and Professor Wu Shichun, president of China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies.
“He has not started [any formal talks]. He really wanted to talk to these people on a private basis. He will not be coming up with special mission,” Yasay said.
Ramos, Fu Ying and Wu however signed a statement that said their meeting covered seven topics, including “encouraging marine preservation; avoiding tension and promoting fishing cooperation; anti-drug and anti-smuggling cooperation; anti-crime and anti-corruption cooperation; improving tourism opportunities; encouraging trade and investment facilitation; and encouraging track II (think tank) exchanges on relevant issues of mutual concern and interest.”
Ramos told reporters they did not discuss territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but talked about fishing rights there.
Ramos also said there would be a second round of discussions soon.