Aquino orders DFA, DND to respond to Panatag incident
MANILA, Philippines–“Come up with a response,” President Aquino has directed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of National Defense (DND) as he expressed concern over the April 9 incident in the West Philippine Sea, where some 80 Filipino fishermen were driven off Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel.
But the President did not see the need as yet to convene the National Security Council (NSC) to deal with the issue using the Cabinet security cluster, according to deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.
Diplomatic, legal tracks
The NSC advises Aquino on domestic and foreign policies concerning national security and is composed of Vice President Jejomar Binay, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
Valte said the course of action taken by the DFA and the DND should fall within the government’s diplomatic and legal tracks in dealing with issues related to the West Philippine Sea.
“All our courses of action fall within those tracks, and this new incident will not be any different,” she told a Malacañang press briefing.
“President Aquino’s position remains the same,” Valte said, adding that “the last thing you want in a highly charged environment is … an incendiary situation that can lead to violence.”
The Palace official said she had “not heard any discussions” about Aquino’s plans to raise the latest incident of China’s aggression in next week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Malaysia.
“What I know is that he intends to express his views on the reclamation happening in certain areas of the West Philippine Sea,” Valte said.
Cabinet security cluster
The President would rather deal with the issue through the mechanism of the Cabinet security cluster, she added, with “other security officials necessary in the discussion called to join the meetings, where the WPS (West Philippine Sea) is a regular item in the agenda.”
The Cabinet security cluster, which is chaired by Ochoa, is composed of Catapang, Del Rosario, Roxas and De Lima, as well as Garcia and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles.
Asked if vessels from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources would continue to patrol the disputed areas and assist local fishermen, Valte answered in the affirmative although she said she would “have to clarify if there have been any directive” not to allow fisherfolk to venture out to these areas.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) had “verified and confirmed” the April 9 Panatag Shoal (also called Bajo de Masinloc) incident, except for the actual number of fishermen involved, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., said.
“The PCG has sent its reports to the DFA and the DND,” added Coloma who heads the Presidential Communications Operations Office.