‘Bilateral talks with China still best option’


‘Bilateral talks with China still best option’

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is sticking to diplomatic means in asserting the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea where the Chinese have expanded their military presence and restricted the activities of Filipino fishermen.

“For the President at this point, diplomatic negotiation is still the best option. There is no better option because you’ll be dealing with the one you’re supposed to be enemies with,” presidential spokesman and chief legal officer Salvador Panelo said yesterday.

“We don’t want confrontation as this might worsen the situation and endanger security and the lives of our countrymen. On securing the area, we’ve been doing it all along,” he said at a press briefing at Malacañang.

His remarks were apparently in reaction to Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s offering suggestions on how the country could assert its rights over its territorial waters without triggering a war with China.

“The President is the chief architect,” he said. “Now if those critics will insist on what they want, then I guess in the next elections they should run for president. If they become president and chief architect, then they can do whatever pleases them,” he said.

Panelo said the President had carefully studied all options and concluded that the wisest and least dangerous solution is diplomacy.

Carpio has chided the President for his defeatist stand in dealing with China with regard to the 2016 landmark ruling by an arbitral court based in The Hague that invalidated China’s massive claim in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the Philippines’ own maritime entitlements. China vowed not to comply with the ruling.

Speaking at the Ateneo Law School’s graduation rites last Sunday, Carpio enumerated possible options for Duterte, who had publicly asked him last month to suggest ways to implement the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling in favor of the Philippines.

One of his suggestions is for the Philippines to enter into a convention with Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei declaring that, as ruled by the arbitral tribunal, no geologic feature in the Spratlys generates an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and there are only territorial seas from the geologic features that are above water during high tide.

He expressed belief such tack will leave China isolated as the only state claiming EEZ in the Spratly islands.

Carpio said the Philippines can also opt to file an extended continental shelf claim in the West Philippine Sea beyond the 200-nautical mile EEZ off the coast of Luzon, where China is the only opposite coastal state, before the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

Carpio further suggested that the government send on patrol its 10 new 44-meter multi-role response vessels donated by Japan for use by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Navy in Freedom of Navigation and Overflight Operations with foreign naval powers.

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters the Philippines is not afraid of China but is not ready to stop the Chinese from fishing in the West Philippine Sea.

“We’re not afraid, but the thing is they are there already,” he said at the French National Day reception.

“We have been asserting our rights there in the West Philippine Sea and they are listening to us but the arbitral ruling they won’t honor,” he said. “And what can we do if they don’t honor the arbitral ruling?” –  With Alexis Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Edu Punay