MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III will bring up the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China when he meets with US President Barack Obama later this month, Malacañang said on Tuesday, April 1.
Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr made the statement in a news briefing, when asked if the China issue will be among the topics to be discussed by the two leaders when Obama visits the Philippines in late April. (READ: Obama to stay overnight in PH)
“Defense and security will definitely be a topic in the talks between President Aquino and President Obama. And when we talk of this topic, the most relevant issue that can be discussed would be the West Philippine Sea. So, it is entirely within the realm of possibility,” Coloma said.
The US has criticized as “provocative and destabilizing action” China’s attempt to block a Philippine civilian vessel bringing manpower and supplies to a Philippine Navy ship at Ayungin Reef on Saturday, March 29.
In a meeting with Chinese officials in Washington in 2013, Obama called on China to resolve its maritime disputes with its neighbors peacefully, without the use of force or intimidation. (READ: Obama warns China against ‘coercion’ at sea)
Coloma clarified that the Philippine strategy in the West Philippine Seas issue is not limited to the pleading it had filed against China with an arbitral tribunal.
“If we view the total context of our position, we have not limited ourselves to the filing of such case in the ITLOS or in the arbitral tribunal,” he said.
Coloma said the Philippines has “firmly and staunchly” advocated its position on the issue in all major international fora such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings and its summits with dialogue partners.
“I don’t think it is accurate for anyone to characterize our strategy as putting our eggs in just one basket because we have been active…in all the fora that had given us the opportunity to present our position,” he said.
He said that if the arbitral tribunal does not rule in favor of the Philippines, there is still the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea envsioned as a binding instrument among its signatories – China and ASEAN member-nations.
The document was signed at the 6th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2002, but efforts to turn it into a binding instrument has been blocked by China, which favors bilateral discussions on territorial disputes.
No media hype
Malacañang took exception to the allegation of the Chinese foreign ministry that the Philippines is using “media hype” to advance its interests in the West Philippine Sea.
“All that we did was to provide an opportunity for some members of media to see first-hand the situation…and they have reported it as they have seen it,” Coloma said.
Coloma was also asked about the experience of some journalists in the civilian vessel on Ayungin Reef. They received text messages from a Chinese telecommunications company saying, “Welcome to China” when they were in the disputed area.
He said the matter is being investigated by service provider Globe Telecom, which Coloma said, may choose to forward their findings to the government.
Asked if it was a government concern that Chinese mobile phone services are available within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, Coloma replied, “Our Department of National Defense will know what appropriate actions are needed.” – Rappler.com