MALACAÑANG has hardened its stand on the Philippines’ claim over shoals and rocks at the West Philippine Sea, saying the country’s economic right over these territories is “non-negotiable.”
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Wednesday that while the government continues to take a diplomatic path in finding ways to settle the maritime dispute with China, the Philippines will not trade off its rights over the West Philippine Sea.
“The Philippines continues along a diplomatic path to fully realize the EEZ (exclusive economic zone) rights granted by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) – engaging in bilateral talks to find mutually acceptable arrangements to RP (Republic of the Philippines), PROC (People’s Republic of China); and consulting with our regional allies,” said Abella.
“We consider our sovereign economic rights, granted by the Law of Nations to be non-negotiable,” he pointed out.
Abella issued the statement a day after President Rodrigo Duterte met with US Sen. Chris Murphy. In that meeting, Duterte made his position on the matter clear.
Murphy disclosed the result of his meeting with the President on Twitter.
“In Manila – just out of meeting [with]new Philippines President Duterte. Assured us he has no plans to negotiate [with]China over islands dispute. We were first US elected officials to meet [with]Duterte. Says he will not trade territorial rights to China. Tribunal decision non-negotiable,” said the American lawmaker.
Duterte had earlier pushed bilateral talks with Beijing and had wanted President Fidel Ramos to head the negotiations.
Abella stressed that any negotiations with China will be in accordance with local and international laws.
“Engagement with China towards the peaceful resolution of the issue must be compliant with the Constitution, International Law and the rule of law,” he said.
This developed after Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. revealed on Tuesday that he had turned down a Chinese proposal to start bilateral talks because Beijing did not want the ruling of the international tribunal tackled.
Yasay said he had met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the recently concluded Asia-Europe Meeting Summit in Mongolia, where the latter warned of a “confrontation” if Manila insisted on the ruling.
The PCA nullified China’s historic claims on areas in the West Philippine Sea, including Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank that is within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“They had insisted for us to not even make any comments about that … and had asked us also to open ourselves for bilateral negotiations but outside of the arbitral ruling,” Yasay said.
He said he rejected the offer because it was not consistent with the Philippine Constitution and national interest.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang confirmed that Yasay and Foreign Minister Wang Yi did meet.
“Foreign Minister Wang Yi elaborated on China’s principled position on the current situation, saying that China would like to work in unison with the Philippines if the new Philippine government is willing to resume dialogue and consultation, manage disputes and improve bilateral relations together with China,” Lu said in a translated transcript issued by the Chinese Embassy in Manila on Wednesday.
Lu said the Chinese Minister underscored that it is in the fundamental interests of both countries and their people “to move China-Philippines relations back to the track of dialogue and consultation.”
The PCA’s ruling was also rejected by Taiwan.
On Wednesday, Taiwanese lawmakers and fishermen headed to Taiping island to protest the tribunal ruling which undermined Taipei’s claims there.
Eight lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) boarded a military plane to the Taiwan-controlled Taiping island in the Spratlys archipelago.
Five fishing boats decorated with Taiwanese flags and banners reading “Protect fishing rights, safeguard sovereignty” also set sail to Taiping from southern Pingtung county to protest the perceived threat to fishermen’s livelihoods.
The PCA also ruled that Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys, was legally a “rock” and not entitled to its own exclusive economic zone, undermining Taiwanese claims to waters surrounding the island.
“The ruling is absolutely unacceptable. It is necessary for us to visit Taiping at this time to show the international community that it is an island, not a rock,” said KMT lawmaker Johnny Chiang, who was part of the protest visit.
WITH AFP AND MIKEE DELIZO