Aquino to Del Rosario: Resolve Spratly issue in China visit

Posted on July 06, 2011

PRESIDENT BENIGNO S. C. Aquino III yesterday said he had directed Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario to resolve disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

President Benigno S. C. Aquino III at the 113th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Photo taken July 5. -- Photo By Jonathan L. Cellona

“One of the main topics would be the West Philippine Sea. That’s the essence of diplomacy. Settle the differences through talking rather than any other means and that is actually enshrined in the Constitution. So he will endeavor to have discussions on how to resolve this issue,” said Mr. Aquino, in an ambush interview during the celebration of the 113th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Citing the importance of engaging in a dialogue, he said that his office is fixing the date for a state visit to China where he will personally meet with his counterparts and settle the dispute diplomatically.

Baka naman tayo magkasundo kaysa naman, hindi tayo puwedeng magdedmahan kung ganitong buhay ng mga tao ang nakasalalay [Perhaps we will come to an understanding. We can’t ignore each other when lives are at stake],” said Mr. Aquino.

“Barring any unforeseen circumstances, [the state visit] should happen this year.”

As to whether the President will raise the unidentified fighter jet that recently flew low in the West Philippine Sea and intimidated Filipino fishermen, Mr. Aquino said he first has to know details of the incident.

“The last report was two unidentified planes that were in an intercept course with two of our patrols. I will have to get information with regard to that incident,” said Mr. Aquino.

In earlier interviews, Mr. Aquino had said he will report several incidents of incursion into Philippine territory to the United Nations, and will also raise the matter during his China visit.

The President has been consistent in his position that the Philippines should protect its national sovereignty, including maritime interests, using a “rules-based system for a peaceful, fair, advantageous dialogue, moving towards a resolution that is beneficial for all.”

He further noted that the problem would not have escalated had the Philippines stuck to the 2002 Declaration of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and the previous administration had not decided to enter a new agreement -- the 2005 Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking -- inviting other countries, China particularly, to explore the seas within the Philippine national territory.

Wala pong may gusto ng gulo, pero hindi rin po nito ibig sabihin na magpapakaladkad na lamang tayo sa mas malalaking mga bansa [No one wants a scuffle but that does not mean that we’ll allow bigger countries to run roughshod over us],” said Mr. Aquino.

Kapag po hinayaan nating brasuhin lamang tayo, baka po ang mga susunod na Pilipino ay magsiksikan na lamang sa iisang isla. Kapag hinayaan nating itulak lang tayo ngayon, baka po bukas makalawa, ang 7, 100 islands natin ay maging two digits na lamang. Hindi naman po makatarungang angkinin na lamang ng iba ang malinaw namang sa atin talaga [If we allow ourselves to be bullied maybe the next Filipino generation will cram themselves in one island. If we allow ourselves to be shoved aside, maybe tomorrow our 7,100 islands will just be two digits. It’s not just for others to just take what is ours).”

Mr. Aquino is adamant in talking with other claimant countries to present a united front on the issue, and said that the Philippines will continue to honor its international commitments.

However, the President clarified that foreign policy for the Philippines -- even in accepting or providing help to treaty ally United States -- is still geared towards what is advantageous to the Philippines.

“We chart our own foreign policy. It so happens that in this particular case, there was a convergence between the Americans and ours with regard to the West Philippine Sea that there’s a convergence of objectives by both sovereign countries.

“So it does not sit well with me when somebody says that we closely align, meaning we abrogate our charting of our own foreign policies to that of another country. That is not permissible. Now we will chart our foreign policy based on the interest of the Philippines,” said Mr. Aquino.

He was reacting to a question over a portion of his speech where he criticized the previous government for foregoing its promises to the US during the Iraq War, a complicated tangle involving the release of a Filipino, Angelo de la Cruz, an overseas worker captured by militants.

Nangako tayo sa isang kaalyadong bansa. Kapag ugnayang panlabas ang pinag-uusapan, hindi tayo maaaring maging iwas-pusoy, magpapalit-palit ng desisyon, o bawiin ang ating ipinangako. Nagmistula tuloy tayong kapitbahay na walang isang salita, putak lang ng putak, ngunit kapag dumating ang unos, wala namang ginagawa. Imbes na tumibay, unti-unting natibag ang ating pakikiisa sa mga banyaga [We gave a promise to an ally. When we speak of foreign collaboration, we can’t take our cards back, be indecisive, or go back on our word. We gave the impression of a neighbor without conviction, someone who just talked and talked, but when the reckoning came, stayed inactive. We eroded rather than strengthened our unity with other countries.”

China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have competing claims in the oil-rich Spratlys. -- Johanna Paola D. Poblete