MANILA, Philippines – Despite the promise to secure the country’s sovereignty, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Aquino government would continue to pursue a “diplomatic solution” to the dispute between the Philippines and China over ownership of the Scarborough Shoal.
“The President [Benigno Aquino III] wants a diplomatic solution in place,” Del Rosario said during a press briefing at the Department of Foreign Affairs Wednesday.
Del Rosario said he met with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing earlier in the day following a standoff between a Philippine warship and two Chinese vessels, which prevented Philippine authorities from apprehending Chinese fishermen found poaching for endangered species and other marine resources in the Scarborough Shoal.
Del Rosario said the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest and was expecting a note verbale from China, citing that they received this information from “sources”.
Despite the conflict, Del Rosario noted the country’s “long-standing friendship with China.
“We have a long standing friendship with China. They are solid partners and as evidenced by the State visit of President Aquino to China, there have been re-commitment on how to make the cooperation broader and deeper, how to make the friendship closer,” Del Rosario said.
“We vow to continue working closely until a diplomatic decision has been arrived at. Both of us are aware that in the spirit and cooperation, we should work on keeping the tensions down,” Del Rosario said.
“We are trying to collect as many options as possible. We are looking for what is fair, what is doable, what is reasonable and what is workable.”
As of posting time, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar and Chinese Maritime Surveillance Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84 remained on standoff, three days after the Chinese vessels stopped the arrest of the Chinese fishermen on the Scarborough Shoal also known as Panatag.
Del Rosario said the Philippines would insist that the shoal was within its territory, saying the country’s claim is supported by UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea].
Vice Admiral Alexander Pama, flag officer-in-command, said the area was well within Philippine territory because it was 124 miles from Zambales, well within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Edmund Tan of the Philippine Coast Guard said they would immediately send a search and rescue vessel to monitor the situation in the area “and of course to show our flag and show our presence.”