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Philippines now eyeing bilateral approach to resolve standoff - DFA chief

MANILA -- After insisting on a multi-lateral approach to resolving the standoff at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, the Philippines is now exploring the bilateral track in an attempt to ease the increasing tension there.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Wednesday night confirmed the “new diplomatic initiative to defuse the tensions in the Scarborough Shoal” announced earlier that day by DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez.

This initiative was raised shortly after Beijing warned that it is ready to respond to the escalating tensions at Scarborough and repeated its request for the Philippines to pull out its ships from the area.

Pressed about this shift in approach, del Rosario said the Philippines has continued to talk with China about the issue, and that this is part of the “political track” that the Philippines has been following together with its “legal track” of putting the issue before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea for resolution.

“We have been talking to them, haven’t we? We are undertaking many tracks. Remember, this is part of the diplomatic and political track,” del Rosario told reporters in a quick interview at the Europe Day reception at the Mandarin Hotel.

But in previous occasions, the department has tried to resolve the issue through an independent third party like ITLOS.

It has also called on its neighbors and fellow members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) for support in its protests against incursions into Philippine territory by the world's second biggest economy.

Asked if the new initiative will involve his Chinese counterpart in China, he said: “Just wait for an announcement.”

Pressed on the possibility that China will cut back on its aid, particularly on joint projects like the much-delayed, corruption-laden North Rail construction, the DFA chief said, “there is development in that area.”

Hernandez said the Philippines is still pursuing the legal track. 

"That (ITLOS) is a legal track. That is part of how we are dealing with the issue in the West Philippine Sea. The legal track is still there. We have not changed our position on that," he said.

"The plan to go to ITLOS with or without China is still there and we are undertaking all the necessary preparations for that," he added.

US committed to help Philippines

At the same time, del Rosario warned that any attack on the Philippines and its territories will prompt the enforcement of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States that binds both parties to military action when either is attacked.

He quoted Article 4 of the treaty: "Each party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional process."

Situation in Scarborough

As of Wednesday afternoon, Hernandez said China still maintains four government ships (two fishing law enforcement command ships and two surveillance ships) and seven fishing boats in the area.

In contrast, the Philippines maintains only two government ships (Coast Guard ship and the Bureau of Aquatic and Fisheries ship) and five fishing boats.

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| May 10, 2012 | Article Link

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