MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) chief Admiral Joel Garcia defended on Tuesday, January 14, their talks with the China Coast Guard (CCG), touting diplomatic meetings with the expansionist Chinese government as the sole antidote to end years of dispute in and over the West Philippine Sea
“Kahit may hidwaan po tayo, wala pong ibang solusyon kundi diplomasya. Wala pong ibang solusyon kundi pumunta tayo sa isang lamesa mag-usap harap-harapan, at sabihin natin ng ating hinaing,” Garcia told a throng of reporters after welcoming the CCG officials at the PCG headquarters in Manila on Tuesday morning.
(Even if we have a conflict with them, we have no other solution but diplomacy. There is no other solution but to meet with them at the table, face to face, and tell them our grievances.)
Garcia’s line of argument fits well with the Duterte administration’s narrative of declaring the availability of only two choices in dealing with China in the West Philippine Sea: either talk extensively or go to war.
Why defensive? Garcia turned defensive after reporters asked for a reaction to criticism that the PCG’s meeting with CCG should not have been pursued in light of numerous instances where Chinese Coast Guard personnel harassed Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.
For Garcia, however, shutting out the incidents for the meantime and focusing on the meeting was needed to prevent more conflicts at sea.
“Kung uunahin natin at aalalahanin parati yung ginawang masama sa ating mga mangingisda, hindi na po uusad. ‘Di na natin kakausapin ang mga [Chinese] (If we focus on the wrongs they have done against our fishermen, we will not move forward. We won’t be able to speak with the Chinese),” said Garcia.
Besides, he said, they were only following the foreign policy pursued by the Duterte government, which signed a coast guard pact with China in October 2016 that paved the way for their 2020 talks.
What the talks will be about: Garcia disclosed that they hope to establish at least two things with their meetings from Tuesday to Friday:
- Hotline communication between Philippine and China coast guard vessels;
- Security mechanism for fishermen.
Establishing a hotline communication refers to producing equipment and procedures for the Philippine and Chinese coast guard vessels to communicate with each other without belligerence when they chance upon each other in the West Philippine Sea. Filipino fishermen have repeatedly reported that they have encountered Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, but instead of being diplomatic, they were shooed away.
The talks between the two organizations, according to a bare schedule shared to the media, will be held on Tuesday afternoon. From Tuesday to Thursday, talks will continue amid exercises, said PCG spokesman Captain Armand Balilo. On Friday, the Chinese will be sent off.
Garcia did not expound on the so-called security mechanism, but vowed to raise the grievances of fishermen in his meeting with the CCG. Garcia appeared optimistic about the talks, stressing that they have the “upperhand” as the meetings are held in the Philippines. – Rappler.com