By Arjay L. Balinbin

The Philippines and the People’s Republic of China, during the Second Meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) held in Manila on Tuesday, Feb.13, have started discussing their plans as they enter into a maritime joint exploration venture in the West Philippine Sea.

“There were intensive discussions on mutually beneficial joint initiatives and consensus on the convening of technical working groups in the areas of fisheries, oil and gas, marine scientific research and marine environmental protection, and political security, in the framework of the BCM,” a joint press statement read.

The Philippine delegation to the Second Meeting of the BCM were led by Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary for Policy Enrique A. Manalo while Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou led China’s delegation.

In their joint statement, both countries “reaffirmed that contentious maritime issues are not the sum total of the Philippines-China bilateral relationship.”

They also stressed “the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability, freedom of navigation in and overflight above the West Philippine Sea, freedom of international commerce and other peaceful uses of the sea, addressing territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the 1982 UNCLOS.”

Both parties stated that they will “continue discussions on confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence and to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the West Philippine Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

China and the Philippines also expressed their “commitment to the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the West Philippine Sea in its entirety, and to begin negotiations on a Code of Conduct on the West Philippine Sea early next month, as agreed at the 20th ASEAN-China Summit on 13 November 2017 in Manila.”

Both parties are scheduled to meet for the third time in China in the second half of 2018.

For his part, Magdalo Party-list Representative Gary C. Alejano,  who disclosed in January that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had allowed the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (IO-CAS) to conduct marine scientific research on Benham Rise, said: “Until now, our stand regarding the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is still not clear to the public. In fact, we do not have a strategy in the WPS which would guide the policies and actions of all stakeholders. The Duterte administration has not been transparent on its relations and dealings with China. The people are left guessing. The only thing clear on the Duterte administration now is its silence, inaction, and subservience to China.”

“Duterte has been threatening the people of war with China – a scare tactic. Again, war is not the only option for us to assert our claims and protect our territory. For starters, this administration could have recognized the favorable ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration. This would be able to rally cooperation among claimants and seek pressure from the international community for China to adhere to international law. While exhausting diplomatic means, we could also improve our defense capability and presence in the WPS,” Mr. Alejano further said.