MANILA, Philippines - In the face of China’s refusal to bring up the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal issue before an international court, Malacañang vowed yesterday to exhaust all diplomatic and legal means to resolve the matter.
“We would hope that they will join us in the peaceful settlement of this matter. But, again, we will exhaust our efforts to come up (with) a peaceful resolution to this incident,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
China’s foreign ministry has rejected the Philippines’ proposal that the Panatag Shoal dispute be brought to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or other international forums.
Lacierda also expressed hope that the meeting between Filipino and American officials in Washington this week would be fruitful. The Philippines is seeking assistance from the United States to improve its defense capability.
Lacierda said it would be up to the Department of Foreign Affairs to continuously engage Chinese officials and make them reconsider their rejection of the Philippine proposal.
China’s deployment of surveillance ships to Panatag Shoal to prevent Philippine Navy sailors from arresting Chinese poachers had heightened tensions in the West Philippine Sea, which China claims as its own.
Filipino and Chinese vessels are in a standoff around the shoal, only 124 nautical miles from Zambales and well within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
On Sunday, President Aquino maintained that the country would not go to war with China and ordered all concerned government agencies to document recent aggressive actions of Chinese vessels in the area for possible filing of a case before international courts.
On Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s observation that the US is unlikely to help the Philippines at this time considering its own ties with China, Lacierda said it’s the senator’s “analysis” and that “we should just wait for the discussions in the two-plus-two talks.”
He was referring to the Washington talks yesterday between Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and their US counterparts Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
In her observation, Santiago said the Philippines can depend on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the crafting of a binding code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea.
Message of support Meanwhile, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, one of the largest political parties in the country, has voiced its support for President Aquino’s stand on the Panatag Shoal dispute.
In a statement issued by its spokesman, Valenzuela City Rep. Rex Gatchalian, the NPC said it is supporting the government’s plan to bring the issue to international forums.
It said the plan is a reminder to China “that we are living in a time when conflicts and disagreements between sovereign nations are resolved by applicable international laws and doctrines.”
“While we respect China’s position that the matter should be confined only between them and us, it is obvious that Beijing is using its superior strength and size to intimidate Manila into giving in to their will in connection with Panatag Shoal,” it said.
The NPC recalled that both China and the Philippines signed the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“In fact, China ratified it on July 6, 1996, thereby agreeing to be bound by its provisions, one of which is that anything within 200 miles from the baseline of a country belongs to that country,” it said. Panatag Shoal is just 124 miles off Zambales, while it is more than three times that distance from China.
The NPC is identified with Aquino’s uncle businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. It is part of the pro-administration majority coalition in the House of Representatives.
Another ranking NPC member, former Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco, said the Aquino government is doing a good job in protecting the country’s sovereignty. “I support President Aquino’s strong stand in protecting our sovereignty and one of the best ways of doing it is by seeking the appropriate advice and opinion of other friendly countries like the United States,” he said. He said China’s aggressive stance might have been brought about by its desire to control the mineral and oil deposits believed buried under the disputed area.
Fishers appeal to China An alliance of militant fishermen, for its part, appealed to China to “refrain from harassing Filipino fishermen returning to Panatag Shoal to catch fish.”
In a letter, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) asked China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao “to instruct Chinese naval patrol forces currently deployed in (Panatag Shoal) to cease and desist from scaring or terrorizing the Filipino fishermen.”
“Our fisherfolk are asserting their sovereign rights and livelihood rights. The Beijing government should recognize and respect our fishermen asserting these political and sovereign rights,” Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap said in the letter. With Paolo Romero, Alexis Romero, Jess Diaz, Ding Cervantes - By Aurea Calica mn