Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday said the Philippine government wasted an opportunity to defuse-- if not settle--tensions over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) when it rejected Beijing’s offer to hold bilateral talks.

“China opened the door and we shut it. The Chinese said let’s talk and we snubbed them.

It’s an opportunity to resolve our differences but we failed to take advantage of it,” Marcos added.

The senator was reacting to an earlier pronouncement by Malacañang that the Philippine government is firm in pursuing a multilateral approach to the territorial row, particularly through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Communications Secretary Hermino Coloma Jr., insisted that the Philippines will continue pushing for a legally binding Code of Conduct on the South China Sea between the Asean and China.

Malacanang made the statement a day after Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said China’s door for bilateral consultation and negotiation is still open and will be open forever.

Zhao added that the “best way” to peacefully settle disputes is to resume bilateral negotiation without any condition.

Marcos, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, noted that the Philippines is not going to lose anything by accepting the Chinese invitation to a dialogue on the West Philippine Sea dispute.

“So talk, and tell them, ‘We are not happy with what you are doing and we do not agree with what you are doing.’ But the next thing you say is, ‘How do we fix this?’” he said.

According to Marcos, there are only three ways to resolve disputes--by war, adjudication and multilateral and bilateral agreements.

“We do not want war. Arbitration is not one that is going to be recognized by the Chinese. So it has to be negotiations,” he said.

The bilateral approach was used to end a row over rich fishing grounds between the United Kingdom and Spain in the early 1980s.

“In the end, what did they do? They came to a bilateral agreement to share and now they are working on that basis,” Marcos said.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, in an earlier interview, said while the offer of China to resume bilateral talks with the Philippines is a welcome development, Beijing must show sincerity by making the offer through official channels.

“They [China] should make a formal offer, through formal channels so that they can be studied carefully by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the President,” Angara, also the vice chairman of the foreign relations committee, added.

Support the team

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, meanwhile, said the country must stand behind the Philippine delegation to The Hague for an arbitration case that Manila had filed against China.

“Because when China succeeds, through might, not right, in making the West Philippine Sea its exclusive fishpond, it will not only lead to the disappearance of a large chunk of space from our territory, but also fish from our table,” Recto added.

According to the senator, the Philippines stands to lose around P200 million a day in fish catch if China puts up “no fishing” sign on its reclaimed areas in the West Philippine Sea.

“This is the reason why, regardless of our politics, whoever our bet for 2016 is, we should unite in support of our Philippine delegation to The Hague,” Recto said.

He added that of the 4.705 million metric tons (MT) of fish caught in 2013, commercial fishers contributed 1.067 million MT, while municipal fishermen added 1.264 million MT. The rest, or 2.374 million MT, was raised through aquaculture.

It was estimated that more than three-fourths of total commercial and municipal fishing production come from rich fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea.