THE PHILIPPINE government will not need China’s consent for its plan to declare some parts of the West Philippine Sea as marine protected areas, Malacañang said on Monday.

“Di ba, he already said that?” Mr. Panelo said in a news conference at the Palace on Monday when asked if the President is keen on declaring some parts of the highly-contested West Philippine Sea as marine protected areas.

Asked if the Philippines will need China’s consent for this move, he said: “No…. As far as we are concerned, that’s ours. You don’t have to ask any consent from anyone.”

He also noted that this move may “irritate” China, which is asserting territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea, but added that this would just be another matter for discussion between the two countries.

“Iyan ang claim nila. Ang claim din naman natin, atin (That is their claim. Our claim, on the other hand, is ours)…. O ‘di magni-negotiate tayo. Babalik tayo sa (then we will negotiate. We will go back to) negotiation,” he said.

He added: “That will be another irritant. Ang mangyayari niyan (What will happen is), if you declare a particular stand and they will declare another stand, o di may deadlock, di mag-uusap na naman tayo (Then we will just talk again).”

National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. also said last week that the government is looking into the possibility of declaring Pag-asa Island and Eastern Kalayaan in the West Philippine Sea as marine protected areas.

He made this statement after the reported harvesting of giant clams by Chinese vessels in Panatag Shoal, another part of the disputed territory.

In his intervention during Session III of the Leaders’ Roundtable at the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing last Saturday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said, “As an archipelagic state, the Philippines seeks to improve our collective capacity to manage and protect marine resources.”

He added: “As channels of transportation and communication, and a vital source of sustenance and livelihood, our oceans and seas connect and sustain us. It is thus our collective duty to promote their sustainable and peaceful use in accordance with international law.” — Arjay L. Balinbin