Candidates differ on how to deal with China
Presidential and vice presidential candidates on Wednesday proposed different approaches in dealing with China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea.
The administration’s presidential candidate, Mar Roxas, appealed for sobriety amid reports that Chinese vessels had anchored near a Philippine-claimed atoll in the disputed sea.
“For me, it’s important for us to stay calm because if we start violence, we don’t know how this would end,” Roxas told reporters in an interview after visiting loom weavers in Tubigon, Bohol province.
Accompanied by his running mate, Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, Roxas embarked on a four-town swing in Bohol.
Roxas reiterated that bringing the territorial dispute before the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration was still the best option for the government to prevent the problem from escalating.
Like ordinary Filipinos who seek settlement of their legal concerns before the courts, he said the country should bring the territorial dispute with China “to the international court of the United Nations.”
“That’s what our government did. Our actions were just and according to the legal process. That’s what we should pursue,” he said.
Chinese Coast Guard ships had reportedly taken over Quirino Atoll, which is sandwiched between the Philippine-occupied Lawak Island and the Chinese-occupied Panganiban (Mischief) Reef. The atoll, reef and island lie in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The Chinese vessels reportedly left two weeks ago, according to officials in Manila and Beijing.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, standard-bearer of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), has said he would rather have bilateral, or country-to-country, talks with China.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a presidential candidate, said he was open to talks with China to ease the escalation of insurance premiums in the cargo shipping industry, but he added China should first honor the ruling of the UN arbitration court.
“I am open to bilateral talks with China about the disputed territories to ease the increasing fees of shipping insurance of vessels that have to pass through these areas, which is hurting the industry,” Duterte told the Inquirer.
“But first if the ruling of the arbitration court is favorable to us they should honor it. I am open to it, but I will not initiate it,” the mayor said.
Manila initiated arbitration proceedings in January 2013 after Beijing refused to withdraw its ships from the disputed Panatag Shoal, internationally called Scarborough Shoal.
A ruling by the UN tribunal is expected later this year, even while China has refused to participate in the arbitration process.
The Asian giant has been militarizing the resource-rich waters of the South China Sea, including Philippine-claimed atolls and reefs in the West Philippine Sea.
Robredo does not share the position of two of her rivals on the need to hold talks with China, saying these may lead to Beijing “bullying” the country.
Robredo stood squarely on the side of the government in filing a case in the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration.
“I do not agree that we become an aggressor in this because we have no capability, but having said that, we need to take all steps to protect our sovereignty,” she told students of a university in Las Piñas City on Tuesday.
Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Gregorio Honasan II, both vice presidential candidates, favor talks with China to ease the tension over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.
Advising the government not to pin its hopes on resolving the dispute through the UN tribunal, Marcos said dialogue with China could be by way of trade, culture or even sports.
In a statement, Marcos said: “(W)e should talk to China and tell them what we want and that we are not in favor of what they are doing and start from there. What is important is we start a dialogue.”
He pointed out that the signing of the Philippine-Indonesia maritime baseline agreement after 20 years of negotiations could be used as a template for the talks.
Honasan said the country should continue to talk to China in a multilateral arrangement, including considering joint exploration of disputed areas.
“If our bilateral agreements with other countries do not serve our own interests, then let’s continue to talk to China in a multilateral arrangement,’’ the UNA vice presidential candidate said in a statement.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers criticized the Aquino administration for reportedly allowing another atoll to fall into the hands of China.
Magdalo Rep. Ashley Acedillo said that five years ago, China had already targeted Quirino Atoll off the coast of Palawan province, which should have sent alarm bells ringing for the government to increase its presence in the area.
Senatorial candidate Walden Bello said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Defense should have made 24/7 surveillance of the area much earlier.
“We have good air surveillance capabilities and access to international satellite monitoring systems. We should have a preemptive strategy from now on, keeping the world informed of China’s possible next moves,” said Bello, a former Akbayan representative.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, a senatorial candidate, said: “It seems that China’s strategy now is to take as much territory as it can in the West Philippine Sea before the ruling of The Hague Arbitral Court comes out, so other claimants would be hard put to evict the rising superpower from their claimed areas.” With reports from Jeannette I. Andrade and Christine O. Avendaño
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