Aquino’s order: Keep government plans secret
Decisions on China under wraps until done dealBy Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino III ordered the government’s plans and decisions involving the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China to be kept secret before they are implemented.
Toward that end, Mr. Aquino, according to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, gave instructions that the four hourlong Cabinet meeting on Thursday—the second in a week—be held behind closed doors.
The staff of the 35 Cabinet members present were asked to leave before the meeting began, Lacierda said.
“Security matters were discussed,” Lacierda said when asked about the level of sensitivity of the issues the President took up with his Cabinet.
“Certain decisions were made,” Lacierda said. “What those decisions are, let’s just wait,” he said.
Lacierda wouldn’t say if a decision was made on when the government would send ships back to Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea to resume a standoff with the Chinese there.
Before the meeting began, Mr. Aquino told reporters that sending back ships to Scarborough Shoal would depend on the weather.
On June 15, he ordered a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources survey ship home from the shoal, citing stormy weather, temporarily ending a two-month standoff with Chinese government vessels in the disputed waters.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said China had committed to withdraw its vessels from the shoal, but it did not.
Lacierda said the Cabinet meeting did not discuss the diplomatic protest. The meeting, he said, was “primarily consultative.”
He denied that the discussions became heated at some points.
Lacierda said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV were at the meeting. Enrile is a former secretary of national defense, while Trillanes is a former Navy officer.
“I’m certain that the President will ask for their opinions,” Lacierda said when asked if Mr. Aquino would consult the two senators on the dispute with China.
Curiously, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin wasn’t in the meeting. Lacierda said Gazmin was in Japan and was represented by an undersecretary.
No more fishing boats
Raul Hernandez, DFA spokesperson, said on Friday that China still had vessels at Scarborough, which the Philippines calls Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc.
Citing a report from the Coast Guard, Hernandez said there were two Chinese maritime vessels and one Chinese fisheries law-enforcement vessel outside the lagoon of the shoal Friday morning.
Hernandez said there were no more Chinese fishing boats inside or outside the lagoon.
President Aquino had threatened to send back government vessels to the shoal unless China withdrew its ships.
New city’s jurisdiction
The dispute began on April 8 when Chinese maritime ships blocked the path of a Philippine vessel to prevent the arrest of Chinese fishermen caught poaching sharks and collecting rare clams and corals in the shoal’s lagoon.
The shoal is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) recognized under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. But China refuses to recognize the Philippine EEZ, insisting that ancient maps prove the shoal is part of its territory.
China is also claiming Philippine territory in the Spratly Islands and Macclesfield Bank. In June it warned the Philippines against the opening of a public elementary school on Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys, and placed Macclesfield Bank, which it calls Zhongsha Island, under the jurisdiction of the new Sansha City. It also placed Paracel Islands, which Vietnam claims, and Vietnam’s parts of the Spratlys under Sansha’s jurisdiction.
On Wednesday, the DFA summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing and handed her a note protesting China’s action on Macclesfield Bank, which the Philippines’ administers through the provincial government of Zambales.
President Aquino on Monday said that he was considering asking the United States to help monitor the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea through spy plane overflights.
When China reacted, accusing him of stirring up tension in the West Philippine Sea, Mr. Aquino told Chinese officials on Thursday to “balance their statements with the truth.”
He said it was well within the Philippines’ right to ask a treaty ally for help in monitoring its territories in the West Philippine Sea. The United States and the Philippines has a mutual defense treaty.
But asking help from the United States was “just an option,” Mr. Aquino said. The government has not yet given the United States permission for surveillance overflights.
Friday, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, who supported the decision of the municipal government of Pag-asa to build a public school for children on the island, said the creation of Sansha City amounted to “virtual annexation” of the entire West Philippine Sea.
“The Chinese government is showing its true intentions in the West Philippine Sea,” Bello said. “Although their establishment of a new city will not in any way serve to diminish our country’s sovereignty in the area, they are setting the stage for more incursions, and possibly occupation of our territory,” he said.
Bello said China’s move was a violation of a nonaggression accord China signed with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2002.
“Their creation of a city to administer the West Philippine Sea sends the message that [they are] not serious [about] a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to the dispute,” he said. “When you place the entire area under this city, what’s there to negotiate?”
Bello said the Philippines and the other Asean countries should take “stronger action” against China for its bullying in the West Philippine Sea.
The 2002 accord is no longer sufficient, he said.
“In order to prevent further Chinese intrusions into our territories, we will need a binding code of conduct for all parties in the West Philippine Sea,” Bello said. With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Tina G. Santos and Gil C. Cabacungan
Tags: Aquino Cabinet , Association of Southeast Asian Nations , Benigno Aquino III , China , Conflict , Defense , Features , Foreign affairs , Government , Macclesfield Bank , Philippines-China relations , President Benigno Aquino III , Scarborough Shoal , Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV , Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile , sovereignty , territorial dispute , West Philippine Sea