MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday expressed confidence that the Philippines will not lose sovereignty over Scarborough (Panatag) shoal, saying the country will raise a strong case before an international tribunal.
In a chance interview in Malacanang, the President said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has sought the help of legal experts from the United States on how the Philippines could raise the matter before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) even without the consent of China.
"Secretary of Foreign Affairs (Albert del Rosario) talked to legal experts who made a protest in the US and they briefed us on the avenues (on raising issues before the international tribunal unilaterally) that are already proven, that worked previously," Aquino said.
"We believe we have a very strong case. We are hoping when they (international tribunal) say adherence to international law and peaceful resolution, that seems to be the way," the President added.
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez earlier said the country could unilaterally raise its claim over Scarborough shoal before the international court despite the refusal of China.
The Philippine government had asked the Chinese side to bring the dispute before the Itlos but the East Asian state declined such a move, saying it already has full historical and jurisprudential evidence for its sovereignty over the Huangyan Island.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, meanwhile, believed that the Philippines was able to relax the tension in Scarborough shoal with China contrary to some criticisms saying militarizing the disputed territory will be disadvantageous to the Philippines.
Lacierda said recent government actions in handling the stand-off have deescalated the tension between the two countries.
"We have definitely deescalated the tensions in the Panatag shoal. We are raising the issue before the International Tribunal because we believe that the way out from this situation is to have a declaration mechanism as provided by international laws," he said.
Lacierda disputed the claims of columnist Rigoberto Tiglao that the Philippines could lose Scarborough shoal if President Aquino continues to commit "blunders."
The Palace spokesman said the President has been "very responsible and very prudent" in handling the issue.
He added that the Aquino government would not allow the Chinese to put up garrisons there as what they did in Mischief Reef.
With respect to building relationships with China, Lacierda said Filipino diplomats are exerting efforts to talk with their Chinese counterparts.
"We have a lot of levels of exchange with the Chinese government, not only the Chinese government but also the Chinese community. So it’s not true that we have not repaired the relations in fact, we have good relations with the Chinese Embassy here in the Philippines" he said.
Lacierda also said the President has been receiving sufficient counsel from his advisers to deal with the issue.
He added the Philippine government is continuously documenting the actions of the China, including the reported Chinese fishing vessels that continue to operate in the disputed area before the issue is raised to the international tribunal.
Lacierda also reiterated that the Scarborough shoal is part of the Philippine territory as Taiwan also asserted sovereignty over the disputed area.
"Regardless of who the claimants are, our position has always been the same that the Panatag shoal is 194 nautical miles and under Unclos, it is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, and therefore we maintain sovereign rights over the Panatag shoal," he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary del Rosario, meanwhile, stressed Thursday that the Philippines seeking the help of its ally, the US, was not meant to provoke anything that would result in heightened tension in the ongoing standoff at the Scarborough Shoal.
In his speech before the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario underscored that the Philippines is not looking to draw sides in the international community against China in their ongoing dispute.
"The Philippines-United States alliance does not aim to confront or contain anyone," said del Rosario, adding: "The last thing (that) the Philippines wants to do is to heighten tensions (in the West Philippine Sea) and drag our allies into it."
Del Rosario issued the statement after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin was quoted as saying on April 25 in Beijing that the Philippines should not exert efforts to make other countries take sides in the dispute.
"Internationalizing this issue will only complicate and amplify it and cannot help solve the situation at all," said Liu.
The Philippine Foreign Affairs chief was in the Washington for the 2+2 meeting between Philippine officials and their US counterparts with the Scarborough shoal dispute being part of the agenda.
The DFA chief said what the Philippines is trying to do is just to gain favorable response in its effort to establish a "rules-based environment" in the area that will stand not just during this dispute but for a long time.
"The Philippines has taken the lead and put on the table concrete and actionable proposals, and we are encouraging others to join us. We believe all countries whether directly affected or not, have an interest and a stake in protecting these fundamental tenets of international law," said del Rosario.
Among the issues they are looking to be addressed, the official said, were the respect for the freedom of navigation and commerce, and the peaceful settlement of disputes.
"What the Philippines is trying to do is to build a rules-based environment and create the conditions that will shape the behavior of all parties towards the peaceful resolution of disputes," del Rosario said. (Jill Beltran/HDT/Sunnex)