The Philippines has asked the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to take a stand on its dispute with China over territorial claims to Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) and on other Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“All, not just the Philippines, will ultimately be negatively affected if we do not take a stand,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Saturday in a text message to the Inquirer.
“Since the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in the West Philippine Sea are of great import to many nations, all should consider what China is endeavoring to do in the Scarborough Shoal in order to pursue its so-called full sovereign rights over the entire West Philippine Sea on the basis of [its] nine-dash line claim, using a historical record that’s clearly baseless,” Del Rosario said.
The nine-dash claim is China’s delineation of its territory in the South China Sea, with nine dashes on the map that enclose all of the Spratly archipelago, parts of which are claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Philippines has filed a protest with the United Nations, challenging China’s nine-dash claim that encompasses the whole West Philippine Sea.
Scarborough Shoal lies north of the Spratlys, 120 kilometers off Zambales province on the western coast of Luzon.
A Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue vessel, the BRP Edsa, is facing off with two Chinese vessels at the shoal in a 12-day territorial impasse set off on April 10 by Chinese poaching in the area.
The poachers, on eight fishing vessels, slipped out of the area with their illegal catch under the protection of the two Chinese surveillance vessels, angering Philippine officials.
Both asserting their territorial claim to the shoal, the Philippines and China have refused to recall their vessels from the area.
There were three Chinese vessels in the area until Friday night, when one returned to China. It was replaced by a large fishery patrol vessel, the Yuzheng 310, which arrived Friday morning.
By Saturday morning, Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara, military commander for Northern Luzon, said there were only two Chinese vessels in the area, the Yuzheng 310 and a maritime surveillance ship. “Our search and rescue [vessel], the Coast Guard 002 [BRP Edsa], is still in the area,” Alcantara said.
There have been “no untoward incident in the area,” Alcantara said.
But Filipino fishermen have been avoiding the area since the dispute flared on April 10, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
“I heard that they were trying to avoid the area for now [in] fear for their safety,” DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez told reporters on Saturday.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has advised fishermen to stay away from Panatag Shoal until the standoff is over.
Hernandez said, however, that there is no official order from the government for fishermen not to go the area. “We would have to check with BFAR,” he said. “I think the fishermen themselves prefer to avoid the area.”
That’s a good idea, according to Malacañang. The fishermen’s staying away from the Panatag Shoal means “one less concern for the Philippine Coast Guard watching … the area,” Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, said on Saturday.
Also Saturday, Presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas said a long-term solution to the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea would be a settlement of boundaries among the claimants.
“The best solution will still have to be a negotiated settlement of boundaries and rights,” Llamas said in a text message.
He said the settlement could be brought up in the United Nations and in the Asean.
Involve the allies
Sen. Gregorio Honasan recommended the same tack. He warned on Saturday that China might resort to military action if the Philippines continued contesting ownership of Panatag Shoal.
But by putting allies like the United States and other members of the Asean in the equation would discourage China from using its military might, Honasan said.
“If other countries like the US and those from Asean would get involved, [China would] hesitate,” he said.
“[If it’s just us, China would overrun us],” Honasan said.
Honasan said he supported the government’s plan to bring the Scarborough Shoal dispute to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), but in the meantime the Philippines should call for an emergency meeting with other Asean members “so they will get involved.”
The DFA’s Hernandez said last week that the foreign office had been mobilizing support among its Asean allies to counter Chinese intrusions in the West Philippine Sea.
No Asean statement yet
On Saturday, asked if other Asean members have issued any statement, if not taken a stand on the Scarborough Shoal issue, Del Rosario said “there have been no statements that we know of thus far.”
At the recent Asean summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Del Rosario reiterated the Philippines adherence to the primacy of international law in resolving territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
Speaking at the Asean foreign ministers’ meeting, Del Rosario said abiding by the rules set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is the legitimate way of dealing with conflicting territorial claims in the disputed waters. With reports from Norman Bordadora, Dona Pazzibugan, Tina Santos and Christian Esguerra
First posted 6:12 pm | Saturday, April 21st, 2012