By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Philippines should not discard its diplomatic protests against China’s activities in the West Philippines Sea even as the two nations already agreed to settle their dispute through bilateral negotiations.
Administration ally and reelectionist Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said this Thursday as he believed that the Philippine government should continue to avail of other remedies in asserting the country’s sovereign rights over waters within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
At the Manila Bulletin’s Hot Seat interview Thursday, Pimentel was asked on the proper course of action to resolve the poaching of giant clams by Chinese fishermen in the Panatag, or Scarborough Shoal.
“Harvesting or poaching giant clams in an area which we believe is [within] our exclusive economic zone is actually taking advantage of the economic benefits of our zone — that’s not their zone — so we have the right to complain,” the senator responded.
While bilateral talks with China are “good”, Pimentel said the Philippines should still be open to employing other avenues under international laws.
“[Bilateral] Negotiations are better than other options. [But] I don’t think the agreement requires that you are abandoning the other remedies under international treaties, so [we should] avail of all the remedies,” he said.
A multilateral approach is “also okay” as he noted that there are other claimants to the South China Sea.
Aside from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam are also challenging China’s maritime claims.
“So as we pursue bilateral talks with China, let us also be open with multilateral talks,” Pimentel said.
“But of course let’s limit it to countries directly affected by the controversy or the issue, not the other who wants to be the world policeman,” he added, apparently alluding to the United States, which has also been protesting China’s activities in Southeast Asia.
Pimentel said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), which he described as the Philippines’ “diplomatically-armed soldier”, plays an important role in protecting the country’s territory. He urged the agency to raise the issue before the international courts.
Earlier, DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines had filed a diplomatic protest about the reported “mass harvesting” of giant clams in Panatag Shoal.
In his visit to Beijing recently, President Duterte raised in his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping the issue on the West Philippines Sea. The two leaders supposedly agreed to resolve the matter through bilateral negotiations.
National Security Adviser Hermones Esperon Jr., meanwhile, has announced plans by the government to declare parts of the West Philippines Sea as marine-protected areas to prevent similar incidents and protect the country’s natural resources.