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Spain to support PH in sea row

MADRID—Spain has offered to be the “voice” of the Philippines in the European Union in its territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, President Aquino said on Monday.

Aquino said Spain expressed “surprise” and “heightened concern” over developments in the South China Sea when he sat down with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for a bilateral meeting.

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The President said he also discussed the matter with King Felipe VI.

But he said Madrid “adopted the soundness of the actions” taken by Manila, such as filing an arbitration case against China in the United Nations.

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“I think, in general, they already support all of that,” Aquino told reporters on board his charter flight to Belgium, where he would meet with EU leaders.

Earlier, Aquino warned against an “increasing pattern of aggressive Chinese behavior” in the South China Sea and called on Spain to support Manila’s proposal to settle peacefully territorial disputes with Beijing.

In his meeting with Rajoy, Aquino cited the presence of Chinese vessels in the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone and the “harassment of fishermen” from neighboring countries also claiming portions of the disputed waters.

“It is in the interest of the international community to ensure that the rule of law is protected whenever confronted by forces that do not respect it. The international community must uphold the rule of law for the sake of global peace, security and stability,” he said during the 30-minute meeting at Palacio de la Moncloa here.

Just last month, the President criticized Beijing for deploying two hydrographic research vessels near Reed Bank (Recto Bank), which is located 144 km from Palawan province.

Aquino informed Madrid of Beijing’s reclamation activities in the Johnson South Reef (Mabini Reef), Hughes Reef (Kennan Reef), Cuarteron Reef (Calderon Reef) and Gavin Reef (Gaven Reef).

With a poorly equipped Coast Guard watching over a coastline of more than 36,000 km, the Philippines has found it increasingly difficult to guard against intrusions, particularly from Beijing, which is claiming around 90 percent of the South China Sea.

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Triple Action Plan

Mr. Aquino sought Madrid’s support behind Manila’s proposed Triple Action Plan, which he described as a “positive, constructive and comprehensive approach to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.”

The plan provides “immediate, intermediate and final approaches to address the provocative and destabilizing activities in the region without prejudice to existing territorial claims.”

“The Philippines hopes that claimant states, other Asean countries and Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) dialogue partners will favorably consider this proposal,” Mr. Aquino said.

Under the plan, Manila wants countries to refrain from activities that could increase tensions in the South China Sea.

“The call for a cessation of activities is not intended to affect the various claims of different countries,” Mr. Aquino said.

“It is intended as an imperative arrangement in light of the escalating tensions in the South China Sea. All countries should be able to support this imperative for the sake of peace and stability. How this proposal would be shaped must be the subject of dialogue among countries concerned,” he added.

The second step under the Philippine proposal is the completion of a binding code of conduct in the region. Disputes should ultimately be settled under a mechanism “anchored on international law.”

“The Philippines is pursuing such a resolution through arbitration and believes that the arbitration award will clarify the maritime entitlements for all parties, which will be the basis for the settlement of maritime disputes,” the President said.

After the bilateral meeting with Rajoy, the President motored to Palacio de la Zarzuela for an audience with Spanish King Felipe VI.

Mr. Aquino and members of his delegation then flew to Brussels for a more grueling schedule that included a meeting and joint press conference with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso at 9 p.m. (Manila time).

Like in Spain, the President was to assure the European Council that the Philippines was committed to rooting out illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

“We are now working toward legal and administrative reforms to address the European Union’s concerns on the regulation of the Philippines’ fishery sector,” he told Rajoy.

Originally posted: 1:08 am | Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

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TAGS: European Union, European visit, King Felipe VI, Mariano Rajoy, President Aquino, triple action plan
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