Talking to China more 'progressive' move – Miriam Santiago

PAG-ASA ISLAND. The second biggest island in the disputed South China Sea is home to about a hundred Filipinos.

Photo by SSg Amable Milay/Philippine Air Force

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential candidate Miriam Defensor Santiago said on Thursday, March 3, that she will take a “more progressive” approach in resolving the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute with Beijing should she be elected into office.   

Santiago, who chairs the Senate committee on foreign relations, criticized the government’s “complacency” on the issue, amid the reported docking of ships in the contested waters.

On Wednesday, March 2, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed that it received reports from the defense department that Chinese vessels were sighted at the Quirino Island two weeks ago. 

Santiago pointed out that the government must have gained confidence that it will win the case lodged before the international arbitration court. (READ: Philippines wins round 1 in historic case vs China)

But the presidential candidate, an expert in international law, stressed: “It is not true at all that the arbitral tribunal may decide on the Philippine side in the face of China’s excepting itself from the application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Articles 297 and 298.”

The two UNCLOS articles, Santiago said, states the limits to arbitration. Article 298 states that “a State may…declare in writing that it does not accept any one or more of the procedures…”

Push bilateral talks

A “second level of diplomacy” is needed in resolving the issue, said Santiago, since China is also keen on “bilateral negotiation bordering on conciliation.” Her running mate Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr shares the same stance. 

“Militarily, what can we do? Not very much. It’s time to start talking to the Chinese,” Marcos said during a local sortie in Laguna on Wednesday.

Article 280 of the UNCLOS provides states the right to “agree at any time to settle a dispute between them concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention by any peaceful means of their own choice.”

‘President Miriam’ won’t rely on US

Santiago also denounced the country’s continued reliance on the United States, pressing that it also has interests in controlling the West Philippine Sea like China. (READ: Enrile to Miriam: 'We can't fight China with saliva')

Santiago also chairs the Senate legislative oversight committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement. She contests that any treaty including the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the U.S., is void without Senate concurrence. The Supreme Court, however, ruled on its validity.

She said her administration will not depend on the US to resolve a dispute with another country.  

“If elected, I will negotiate with China together with other Asian countries,” she said. – Rappler.com