THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday dismissed statements made by a former senior diplomat, published in The Manila Times last week, backing the position of the Duterte administration to hold bilateral talks with China on a maritime row in the South China Sea.
In a news briefing, DFA Assistant Secretary Charles Jose clarified that the Philippines’ policy in handling the sea row has the unanimous backing of Filipinos.
“We live in a democracy where you can say what’s on your mind. You can disagree with certain policies but we would like to point out that the policies and action of this [Aquino] administration [on]the South China Sea issue has broad support and consensus among the people,” Jose said.
He noted that in a survey conducted in December 2013, at least 90 percent or nine out of 10 Filipino respondents agreed with the country’s move to bring a case before The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) to defend the country’s legitimate rights to areas within 200 nautical miles of its coastline.
Rosario Manalo, chairman of the High-Level Task Force on the Asean Charter and former Foreign Affairs undersecretary for international economic relations, earlier said it is already late for the Philippines to press its claim to territories in the disputed waters as China has already built artificial islands suitable for military use there.
Manalo explained that “under international law, the country who has physical control is the owner.”
She suggested that the two competing countries could undertake joint exploration and “share the fruits of the sea” to ease tensions.
Manalo, however, clarified in a letter read by Jose that she is “not opposed to efforts of the Aquino administration in managing diplomatically and legally the South China Sea concerns.”
“I fully understand and appreciate every step taken by His Excellency President Aquino and the Department of Foreign Affairs in maintaining a steady course with China to peacefully resolve the issue.”
Also earlier, Lauro Baja, former Foreign Affairs undersecretary for policy and Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said the question of territorial integrity or maritime entitlement will not be solved solely on legal ground.
“What the department [Foreign Affairs] or the Philippines may have missed is that they relied too much on the legal angle,” he said. “Second, we relied too much on the panel and we put all our eggs in the panel. We should have had more foresight like the others.”