Aquino: Philippines ready to defend self in case of ‘war’

Posted on July 26, 2012


PAG-ASA ISLAND. 9 Hainan-type fishing vessels at 5 nautical miles west-southwest off Pag-asa Island. Photo taken by AFP Wescom, July 23, 2012

President Aquino said on Thursday that the Philippines is ready to defend itself should there be armed conflict in the South China Sea but reiterated his administration’s commitment to peaceful and diplomatic resolution of the problem.

Responding to questions in a media interview after he delivered the keynote speech at the 114th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), he added that his administration will continue its exercise of “calmness and restraint” in addressing the problem with China caused by the two countries’ standoff in Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

When asked if the Philippines is ready for an armed conflict in the South China Sea should it happen, the President said, “We are always ready based on our own limitations. But the thought or having thoughts of armed conflict might enhance the prospects of having an armed conflict. Let us reiterate, our interest is a peaceful resolution of this conflict.”

The International Crisis Group (ICG), an international think tank, earlier raised the possibility of an armed conflict in the South China Sea in the absence of a Code of Conduct that would guide countries in the region on their actions in the disputed area.

While Mr. Aquino declined to comment on the reported presence of 20 Chinese vessels and two frigates at Pag-asa Island and whether this was contrary to China’s word on working for a peaceful resolution of its row with the Philippines, he said the world has been witness to what is happening in Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, to Manila).

“I won’t make a commentary on the actions of another country but I think that the world has witnessed what is happening in our Panatag Shoal, Bajo de Masinloc,” he added.

The President said, “Let me repeat, I had said this in the Sona [State of the Nation Address], and I say it today, we need calmness and thorough research, and [through this] we would resolve that and really protect the interest of the people.”

In his speech, Mr. Aquino thanked the foreign affairs department for its “untiring effort in pushing for the Code of Conduct to protect our rights in the West Philippine Sea, which is the reason for the clash between the countries claiming the territory.”

“Our position is clear: There are territories whose ownership has to be discussed and decided upon, and there are areas that should not be questioned as [these are] clearly in our territory. We are always open to a peaceful resolution of this issue based on the law and an agreement among nations,” he said.

Through the same “calmness, restraint and extensive research,” according to the President, the DFA and concerned Philippine agencies established the Philippine ownership of Benham Rise, which was seconded by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

He said Benham Rise is rich in natural resources such as minerals and natural gas.

“We will pursue this advocacy while ensuring proper communications with other neighboring countries. We respect the rights of other countries,” the President added.

The Philippine military, meanwhile, has sighted 20 Chinese fishing boats near the country’s claimed territory in the Spratly Islands, also in the South China Sea, and it said it will ask the foreign vessels to move away.

Commo. Rustom Peña, commander of the Naval Forces West based in Palawan province in western Philippines, said the boats were seen on Wednesday about five nautical miles off Pag-asa Island.

Pag-asa hosts Kalayaan, a town that has been made a part of Palawan.

The military said it could not say where the Chinese fishing vessels came from, adding that they could have been part of the 30-boat fleet that China sent earlier to Subi Reef, its occupied territory in the Spratlys.

Mia M. Gonzalez

Philippines sticks to legal tack in solving shoal dispute

MANILA, Philippines -Foreign Affairs Secretary Del Rosario on Thursday said the country was still taking into consideration its move to pursue a legal approach to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute.

“We’re still studying the track that we will be pursuing legally. We expect to have the recommendations from our advisers by the end of this month so we are taking a good look at it. But the legal approach is one that we would like to pursue,” Del Rosario said.

Del Rosario spoke to reporters at a lunch hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs in celebration of its 114th anniversary.

President Benigno Aquino III, in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, said that the country was consulting experts in dealing with the dispute.

Manila had been pushing for the maritime dispute to be brought to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), stressing the need for international mediation to resolve China and the Philippines’ respective claims over a rock formation in the West Philippine Sea. China, however, has rejected the proposal.

When asked about the Chinese moves to deploy fishing vessels around Pag-asa Island, Aquino told reporters:

“I don’t need to comment on the actions of another nation because, perhaps, the whole world could testify to what is happening in Panatag Shoal (and) Bajo de Masinloc.”

Aquino spoke at an interview with reporters after he served as a keynote speaker at the 114th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City.

Repeating what he had said in his State of the Nation Address, Aquino said: “We need to keep calm, we need a thorough study, so that we could resolve this and really protect the interest of the country.”

Del Rosario also echoed the president, saying the country remained firm in its position to seek a peaceful resolve to the dispute.

“The president answered that question earlier. He said that the world is watching and we are also monitoring the developments there but our position is firm. We continue to seek a peaceful resolution to the issue. So we’ll see what happens,” Del Rosario said, when asked about his reactions to the recent Chinese moves.

Military sources have reported that a fleet of 20 fishing vessels, believed to be escorted by at least two naval frigates of the People’s Liberation Army, were deployed around Pagasa Island, the largest of five islands and islets in the Spratlys being claimed by the Philippines.

When asked about his reactions to a warning by an international group that tensions over claims to the Spratly Islands could escalate into conflict, Aquino said that the country’s main interest was a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“We are always ready, based on our own limitations,” Aquino said. He added that comments about armed conflict only “enhance the prospects of having an armed conflict.”

“And let us reiterate, our interest is a peaceful resolution of this conflict,” Aquino added.

Del Rosario added that he was looking forward to meeting the Association of South East Asian Nation’s (ASEAN) foreign ministers at the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September and that he would “probably” have bilateral meetings with them.

When asked if the dispute would be tackled in the assembly, Del Rosario said that he was not aware of the topics they would be taking up at the UN.

ASEAN came under scrutiny after they were not able to come up with a joint communique for the first time because of disagreements on the West Philippine Sea dispute.

When asked about the said debacle, Del Rosario said that ”as far as I’m concerned that’s behind us.” He added that he was not giving up on ASEAN.

Meanwhile, Aquino, in his keynote speech, also lauded the DFA for its efforts to push for a code of conduct to “safeguard our rights in the West Philippine Sea.”

“Our position is very clear: There are territories that should be taken up for discussion in order to determine the ownership and there are areas that shouldn’t be contested because those are ours. We are always open for a peaceful solution of this issue in accordance with the law and treaties signed by countries in the region,” Aquino said.


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