By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte will ask China to stop deploying vessels near Pag-asa island in the Kalayaan Group of Islands when he visits Beijing next week.
“We have to forge a mutually satisfactory solution to the conflict in that area, based on the directives of each constitution, as well as the aspirations of these two countries,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a briefing, Monday.
The President will travel to China for the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on April 26 and 27. Mr. Panelo said bilateral talks between the Philippines and China are expected to take up the presence of Chinese vessels that has threatened Filipino fishermen at Pag-asa. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. earlier said he had filed notes verbales against China in that regard.
When asked if the government will reiterate its call to move the vessels away, Mr. Panelo said, “Yes.”
“I think that was the statement, the core of the diplomatic protest of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs,” he added.
Mr. Panelo said the government is waiting for the official response to the notes verbales, saying “We expect them to respond, whatever response they want, and then act accordingly.”
“We could not immediately make any statement on any report vis-a-vis the presence of vessels or any act of harassment until we validate them. It is only once we validate them that we make our diplomatic protest. And if they insist then we make strong statements against it,” he said.
Mr. Panelo also reaffirmed the government’s stand on the 2016 Hague ruling in favor of the Philippines’ claim on the West Philippines Sea, contrary to former foreign affairs secretary Albert F. del Rosario’s claim that the Duterte administration has “shelved” it.
“Effectively his previous statement, earlier, when he said ‘do not touch our property and if you do any harm to our soldiers, we will respond in kind.’ That effectively has already made a very strong assertion of sovereignty and statement relative to the arbitral ruling,” Mr. Panelo said.
Mr. Locsin, for his part, said in a social media post Monday, “This is actually not the right time to bring up disagreements over the South China/West Philippine Sea with both sides hot under the collar while a pissing contest is in full flower. But ‘swarming in unison’ is definitely not traditional fishing under any definition.”