MALACAÑANG on Wednesday said the Philippines has the full backing of the international community in its dispute with China over several islets and shoals in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said they are confident that the country has “solid” proof of its claims based on laws that are acknowledged by many countries.
“I think we have already made a solid case before the international community. Our case is based on the rule of law,” Valte said in reaction to China’s latest “provocative” action at the Panatag (Scarborough) shoal where Chinese Coast Guard personnel fired water cannons at Filipino fishermen.
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest against the attack, but the move was rejected by China, which maintains that the shoal is part of Chinese territory.
Despite China’s stance, the international community remains behind the country’s efforts at seeking arbitration, Valte said.
“Our claims are based on international law and our approach has also been lauded by several—by most of the members of the international community as far as the path of arbitration that we have chosen to take” is concerned, she stressed.
Valte, however, said she made the statement without prejudice to the arbitration case filed by the Philippines. But she said the firing of water cannons “will play a part” in the proceedings.
“I will not pretend to be an expert when it comes to international law matters. So I also do not want to prejudice the position at least or in Tagalog what you say, “ayokong pangunahan.” But it will . . . All these incidents will play a part in the entire position,” she told reporters.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) summoned the charge d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Manila on Tuesday over the firing of water cannons at two Filipino fishing boats in the disputed waters.
The DFA said there were similar attacks last year at the shoal but no action was taken by the Philippine government.
The department said the January 27 attack “further threatens the peace in the region [West Philippine Sea].”
Valte said the military has been ordered not to respond to Chinese aggression because that may escalate tensions.
“The guidance has always been not to respond to provocative acts. The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces has said these much that we have selected the path of peace, the path of arbitration, and we will stick to that as we have done in the past few years,” she said.
On reports of China’s rejection of the formal protest, Valte said “it is nothing new.”
“Essentially, that it was a reiteration of the concept of the nine-dash line over the West Philippine Sea, as well as the adjacent waters. So it was nothing new.”
Valte added the issue will be handled by the DFA.
“It does go into the responsibilities of the DFA to make sure that the information that they have been receiving is correct and based on the assessment of the available information.
An evaluation is made on what next steps to take. So when it comes to that, the DFA made certain that that particular incident that was being discussed is confirmed and verified,” said Valte.
Sen. Francis Escudero agreed that the Philippines should remain calm amid China’s aggressive and provocative acts in the West Philippine Sea.
The senator said China has the right to reject the protest filed by Manila but the Philippines also has the right to defend its sovereignty and should get the support of the international community.
Escudero, who used to chair the Senate committee on national defense, said the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China is no different from other disputes involving other nations, which usually take decades to settle.
“So the best thing we should do is to remain calm. What is important is for the Philippine government to fight for its territorial rights and also not to allow the situation to lead to violent clashes,” he said.
Although a military solution is always among the options, he said it should be the last option in so far as settling the territorial issue with China. Besides, Escudero said the country does not have the military capability to match China’s might.
Some members of the House of Representatives also urged President Benigno Aquino 3rd to seek the assistance of countries perceived to be allies of the Philippines to fortify Manila’s defense in the dispute.
Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list said that forming an alliance with countries, which also have territorial disputes with China may help convince the latter to sit down and amicably settle the issue.
Batocabe said as long as the territorial defense of the country over the WPS remains weak, incidents like the firing of water cannons at Filipino fishermen are bound to be repeated.
“We have to enlist the cooperation of other nations which have territorial disputes with China to establish a united front to compel China to sit down and address these problems through diplomatic means and not through the use of force or bullying tactics,” he added.
House Deputy Majority Leader and Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna urged the United Nations (UN) to swiftly decide on the case filed by the Philippines.
“This is a continuing aggression and bullying of China against our country. The UN should decide soon on the territorial dispute case that our country have filed. UN’s inaction could escalate violence,” he added.