Monday, April 16, 2012

Diplomatic offensive pushed

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Joker Arroyo yesterday called on President Aquino to launch a “diplomatic offensive” in the region by tapping the support of the United States and its allies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the latest conflict with China.

Arroyo said he wants a collective stand against the apparent intrusion of China into Philippine shores through Scarborough Shoal.

“We are one of the founders of the ASEAN. We were even the first chairman of the ASEAN. Now what is the use of the ASEAN?” he said. “We should have a diplomatic offensive. They have been meeting. (But now) when one of the members are threatened, they have not even issued a stand.”

Arroyo said ASEAN failed to issue even a “resolution of concern or sympathy” during the standoff with China over Scarborough, which the Philippines calls Panatag Shoal.

He noted that the Philippines did not even get any commitment from other ASEAN states during the recent summit in Cambodia when President Aquino pushed for a common stand on maritime disputes in the region.

In the case of the US, Arroyo said it should at least come out with a categorical statement on the dispute “even if we know that they will not likely go to war with China for us.”

He said the Scarborough incident “showed we don’t have reliable allies at all.”

Arroyo described as “embarrassing” the country’s deployment of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a retired ship donated by the US to the Philippine government without its high-tech equipment.

Arroyo added that Malacañang should start coordinating with other agencies of the government, including the Senate and the House of Representatives, to be able to provide a holistic approach to resolving the issue after consensus is reached among all stakeholders.

“We don’t know information that may only be exclusive to Palace… we should work together on this… perhaps they are doing something, but we cannot second-guess on the information that Malacañang has,” he said.

Losing both

Arroyo expressed concern that the Philippines might eventually lose the Spratlys and even Scarborough to China, in the same manner Sabah was acquired by Malaysia with British backing several decades ago.

Arroyo lamented that the country was unable to get any show of support from the US, which has been the Philippines’ traditional ally amid its implementation of the so-called Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

“Ang nakakalungkot dito (What is lamentable), is this: ang laban (the battle is) Spratlys and Scarborough. In both instances, at the moment, we are left on our own. Once upon a time, we had a claim in Sabah… but that was it, we lost it. What if the situation happens again to China? What would we do?” he said.

Because of this, Arroyo said Aquino should discuss the matter with the US government to enable the Philippines to get a commitment of support over the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal.
He said the US Seventh Fleet is still operating in the region, and the Philippines can possibly ask the US for help about securing its economic sea lanes.

“The Philippines should start talking with the Americans. This is the problem. That is the solution,” said Arroyo, noting further the US’ silence on the security problem in the region.

Arroyo lamented the US failed to even give a statement of support for the Philippines in the middle of the standoff over the shoal.

“America will not go to war over Scarborough Shoal and Spratlys. They are withdrawing from Iraq, even in Pakistan. Even in Syria, they don’t want to be involved,” he said.

Arroyo also called for a stop in politicking among enemies and allies of the Aquino administration, saying the more pressing problems on power rates and the territorial standoff between the Philippines and China should be given top priority.

Other lawmakers also called on the ASEAN to intervene in the standoff.

“We are also calling on the ASEAN to actively monitor and intervene in the dispute based on the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño said.

He said President Aquino should not ask the US for help as this could only exacerbate the conflict over the Scarborough Shoal.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone also urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to seek the help of the United Nations (UN) in resolving the standoff.

“The UN should step in because what is being violated by the Chinese is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS. The UN should assert that international laws should be respected and obeyed by the international community,” he said.

Evardone said under UNCLOS, countries that are archipelagoes like the Philippines could claim waters 200 miles from their shorelines as their exclusive economic zone.

“Scarborough Shoal is just 124 miles from Zambales and is clearly within our country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. It is thrice that distance from China,” he said.

Evardone said even just in terms of distance, the Philippines has more right to claim Scarborough Shoal than China.

Evardone, however, said he is not surprised that the Chinese are declaring ownership of this group of rock formations off Zambales since they are also claiming the Spratly group of islets, which are farther away off Palawan.

Multilateral approach

The Department of National Defense (DND) urged China to limit actions that would not contribute to the peaceful resolution of the standoff in Scarborough.

DND spokesman Peter Galvez said the incident underscores the need for Southeast Asian countries to cooperate in seeking a solution to territorial disputes.

“We are always for the multilateral approach in resolving the issue,” Galvez said. “The Panatag incident highlights our call for a multilateral approach and cooperation between our regional partners and allies.”

Galvez said territorial disputes are multilateral as these involve the conglomeration of different claims.

China has rejected a multilateral approach to resolve the issue, saying non-claimant countries should not meddle in the dispute.

Galvez said the recent actions of China might not help resolve peacefully the standoff now on its sixth day.

“(Our appeal is for China) to limit their actions that may not be helpful for the peaceful resolution (of the matter),” Galvez said.

When asked if the DND is disturbed by China’s move to send another vessel and aircraft in the area, Galvez said, “This will not be helpful in coming up with a peaceful resolution. We view it as actions that may not be helpful in the current situation.”

The DND, nevertheless, remains optimistic that the issue would be settled peacefully.
“We don’t wish it to escalate further. We are still hoping for a peaceful resolution (of the standoff),” Galvez said.

On April 8, the Navy monitored eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored inside the shoal while conducting a security patrol.

The Gregorio del Pilar, the Navy’s largest warship, was deployed on the same day to protect the country’s sovereignty.

Scarborough, which the Philippines calls Panatag Shoal, is 124 nautical miles from the nearest base point in Zambales. It is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone based on the UNCLOS, to which China is a signatory.

The Gregorio del Pilar sent a boarding team on April 10 to inspect the fishing vessels and collect evidence of their catch. The team found illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks inside the vessels.

However, two Chinese surveillance ships placed themselves between the Del Pilar and the fishing vessels, preventing the arrest of the erring fishermen.

The Del Pilar was “relieved” by Coast Guard ship BRP Pampanga on April 12 reportedly to allow the warship to load supplies.

On the same day, China sent a third vessel, which the military said is from the Chinese ministry of agriculture.

On Saturday, China boosted its presence by redeploying a ship into the shoal that had been thought to have already left the area.

An aircraft believed to be Chinese was also reported to have buzzed over BRP Pampanga, the only asset that the Philippines used to assert its claim in the area.
The DFA said a white or civilian Chinese ship – presumably the one that returned – harassed a Philippine-registered vessel with nine French nationals conducting archaeological surveys.

It was also reported on Saturday that all but one of the Chinese vessels involved in the standoff had left Panatag Shoal.

Casiño, for his part, said the Chinese fishermen caught poaching in Scarborough Shoal should turn over their illegal catch.

“What the Chinese did was a blatant infringement of our territory. China is obviously targeting our rich marine, mineral and energy deposits and if they are serious in not escalating this standoff, they should return their illegal catch to Philippine authorities as a sign of goodwill,” he said.

“But this incursion must stop and this should be the last. We call on China to respect the Philippines’ territorial integrity and to settle our conflicting claims over the area diplomatically and not through force or intimidation,” he said.

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Christina Mendez | The Philippine Star | April 16, 2012 | Article Link