‘US presence to ensure adherence to law in Spratlys dispute’ — Aquino
MANILA, Philippines — President Aquino said on Tuesday that US presence in the region has been ensuring adherence to international law by parties involved in the dispute over Spratlys, which the Philippines has officially re-named West Philippine Sea.
Mr. Aquino indicated that China wasn’t exactly adhering to international law when it harassed an exploration vessel in the Reed Bank, or what the Philippine government now calls the Recto Bank.
“Of course, they are a superpower…. We do not want any hostility to break out,” President Aquino said in a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon.
“Perhaps the presence of of our treaty partner, which is the United States of America, ensures that all of us will have freedom of navigation, will conform to international law,” he added.
President Aquino was reacting to US Ambassador Harry Thomas remarks that expressed the US’ support for the Philippines in the dispute over territories west of the country’s main archipelago.
“I assure you, in all subjects, we the United States, are with the Philippines,” Thomas said in his speech during the launch of the National Renewable Energy Program in Makati City. President Aquino was present when Thomas delivered his speech.
“The Philippines and the United States are strategic treaty allies. We are partners. We will continue to consult and work with each other on issues including the South China and the Spratly Islands,” the American ambassador added.
Thomas’ remarks during the Department of Energy event is so far the most unequivocal expression of support by the superpower to the Philippines’ case in the Spratlys dispute.
Malacañang, through Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, earlier said that the US would help the Philippines if the territorial issue deteriorated.
Valte cited the almost 60-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and US.
The Philippines and the US also have a Visiting Forces Agreement and joint military exercises are regularly conducted between the two sides.
Recently, the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that buried terrorist Osama Bin Laden in high seas, sailed in from west of the archipelago and made a port call in Philippine waters.
Invoking the United Nations Covention on the Laws of the Sea, President Aquino said there should be no dispute over the Recto Bank (Reed Bank), just 80 miles away from Palawan and 576 miles away from China.
“We’re happy about it especially when they reiterated the reminder that we are a strategic partner and that there is a treaty between us,” President Aquino said in his afternoon briefing.
“Let me just stress that whenever someone talks about the Spratlys, South China or West Philippine Sea, as we call it, there is this that they call adherence to international law. The international law that is applicable is called the Unclos,” President Aquino said.
Under the Unclos, a country’s exclusive economic zone extends 200 miles from its continental shelf. The Unclos was enacted in 1982.
“Five hundred seventy-six is obviously greater than 200. Why should there be a dispute?” President Aquino said in a news briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday afternoon.
Thomas said the partnership between the Philippines and the US “is destined to grow stronger over the years” as they both set the goal of being independent developers of their own resources to meet their energy requirements.
“I hope that we can become energy-independent and harness our own resources to fuel our industries, our homes and our dreams,” Thomas said.
“I know that with that goal set, our partnership is destined to grow stronger over the years,” he added.
The Recto Bank and the Spratly Islands are reputed to be potentially oil-rich territories and are now the subject of exploration by the Philippines and other claimant states.
The Philippines and China has repeatedly expressed their desire for a peaceful resolution of the dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines, a few months back, filed a diplomatic protest after two Chinese ships allegedly harassed a Philippine-contracted exploration vessel in waters off the Recto Bank.
“Well, of course, again the statement by the US ambassador only reaffirms even more so our commitment to finding diplomatic and the peaceful resolution of the issues that we have in the Western Philippine Sea,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said when asked for Malacañang’s reaction to the US’ expression of support.