MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday that it was shifting its focus to the establishment of a code of conduct in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and the arbitration case with China before the international Permanent Court of Arbitration.
DFA Spokesman Raul Hernandez said this when asked in a press conference about the planned filing of another diplomatic protest against China for the concrete blocks it placed near Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag shoal or Scarborough shoal).
He said they are shifting their focus “on the expeditious conclusion of a legally binding code of conduct in the [West Philippine Sea].”
“And also to focus on our preparation of our memorial for the arbitration case with China [before the Arbitral Tribunal],” he said.
Concrete blocks were seen off the shoal in an aerial survey conducted by the Philippine Navy last September 2. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that this was the prelude to construction.
Tensions rose between the Philippines and China after several Chinese fishing ships were found illegally poaching endemic Philippine marine species in Bajo de Masinloc in 2012.
A standoff followed after Philippine authorities were blocked by Chinese maritime security vessels from going into the shoal again.
Several diplomatic protests were filed by the Philippines against China for the intrusions into the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
China however stands on its position that the entire West Philippine Sea, including Bajo de Masinloc and the Spratly’s group of Islands near Palawan, is part of its territory.
The Arbitral Tribunal hearing the case of the Philippines and China has scheduled for the submission of the memorial of the Philippines on March of 2014.
China however, has refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings insisting only on bilateral talks between the two countries.
“On 19 February 2013, China presented a Note Verbale to the Philippines in which it described ‘the Position of China on the South China Sea issues,’ and rejected and returned the Philippines’ Notification,” the Tribunal said in its website.
Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario previously said that they were planning to file another diplomatic protest for China’s placement of concrete blocks.
Hernandez however now said that “the focus now is to really work on these two items, and we prefer to give full attention to these two items.”
“It’s what is good for our case and also [what] we see would be advantageous to our claim in that area,” he said.