Aquino: We will fight for our rights over Recto BankBy Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BATO, Catanduanes—President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday said the Philippines would defend its right over Recto Bank, where natural gas was discovered recently, as he disclosed other gas finds within the country’s territory.
“We will exercise our rights,” said the President when asked about fears raised by businessman Manuel Pangilinan involving security at Recto Bank off Palawan where his company was operating and where China had been intruding recently.
Told that Pangilinan feared that his project would meet delays because of the dispute between the Philippines and China over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Mr. Aquino said the government continued to talk with the Chinese in a search for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
China, which claims all of the South China Sea (which Manila calls West Philippine Sea), insists Scarborough Shoal is part of its territory, although the shoal is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
The two countries have stationed vessels in the area, each refusing to be the first to leave, in a standoff that has entered its fourth week.
Speaking to reporters after inaugurating two hydroelectric power plants and a new weather station here, the President said Manila’s dispute with Beijing over Recto Bank was a “relatively new” one because China’s claim came only in 2009 through its nine dash lines theory.
But Mr. Aquino said the Philippines would try to resolve this new conflict with China peacefully.
Significant natural gas
“There are various [forums] and suggestions coming from both parties as to how to resolve the issues within the Recto Bank and also the protests on service contracts three and four,” the President said.
One of the issues, the President said, was the discovery of “significant” natural gas at Recto Bank.
“There are other [gas] finds in the country and that gives me confidence that we will have even more self-sufficiency as far as energy generation is concerned,” Mr. Aquino said.
He acknowledged, however, that the gas finds would complicate Manila’s territorial dispute with Beijing, which is also looking for new energy sources.
The President said that Unclos “gives us certain rights together with China … among them the EEZ.”
At 150 kilometers from Palawan, he said, Recto Bank was clearly within the country’s 330-kilometer EEZ. In contrast, the nearest part of Chinese territory, Hainan, is 570 kilometers away.
“For me it’s very clear, they [China] are signatories to this (Unclos); they are also signatories to Cites, which covers endangered species, [and] our Coast Guard keeps on reporting that there is still evidence that they are still harvesting items like giant clams,” he said.
“There are realities,” Mr. Aquino said. “[China] is a very big country economically, politically and even [in population].
There is no comparison with us,” he said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that we believe we are in the right and we are obligated to fight for that which is right.”
Hillary meeting details
The President declined to say anything more than what had been reported about Tuesday’s meeting of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario with their American counterparts, State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“Many of what they told me through text was already published in the papers. So I will just await the other details when they come home,” Mr. Aquino said.
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Jose Almendras, who accompanied the President here, acknowledged that there was a conflict between Manila and Beijing and that businessmen were appraising the situation.
Echoing the President, Almendras said there were many forums and many ways for the two countries to discuss the conflict.
“But we’re all hopeful that we can resolve the situation,” Almendras said.
He said Filipino businessmen were also talking with businessmen in China.
“There are many interactions even on the commercial level,” Almendras said.