By PNA, Genalyn Kabiling and Roy Mabasa
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana rejected observations the Philippines is adopting an appeasement policy towards China at the cost of its territorial integrity in the West Philippine Sea.
“No, the appeasement word is coming from you and the others, it’s not appeasement,” he told reporters during the reception of the French National Day in Makati City on Sunday.
The remark came days after the third anniversary of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling that invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim over the West Philippine Sea.
Three years since the decision was released, Lorenzana emphasized that the country, under the Duterte administration, continued to assert its rights in the area, but from the beginning, China was firm in rejecting the ruling.
“Hindi naman tayo takot sa kanila, hindi naman tayo takot… ‘yon lang nga because they are there already (We don’t fear them, we’re not scared, it’s just that China is already there). We’ve been asserting our rights there in the West Philippine Sea and they’re listening to us but as they said they do not honor the arbitral ruling so what will you do?” he said.
Two of eleven
According to a comprehensive report by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a United States-based think tank, China is in compliance with just two of 11 parts of the ruling.
One aspect of the decision it has complied with was allowing Filipino fishermen to Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing grounds off Zambales which China blocked during a standoff with the Philippine Navy in 2012.
The other was Beijing’s discontinuation of destroying the marine environment in the South China Sea with its island-building campaign.
“It could be argued that some of China’s ongoing activities, for instance, the installation of monitoring stations on reefs in the Paracels, are still illegally damaging marine habitat without proper environmental impact assessments. But having run out of space for new landfill, China is now technically in compliance with the bulk of this section of the ruling,” the AMTI report read.
“That could change, however, should China launch new dredging or landfill work at Scarborough Shoal or elsewhere,” it added.
Of the 11 rulings, China maintains its “historic rights” claim in the region through its nine-dash line beyond the territorial seas, exclusive economic zones (EEZ), and continental shelves permitted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
It also continues to occupy the Mischief Reef, the Second Thomas Shoal and the waters around it which are part of the EEZ and continental shelf of the Philippines.
In a press conference over the weekend, China reiterated it would not accept nor recognize the PCA decision, adding the arbitral tribunal “willfully expanded its power to exercise jurisdiction and make an award, which is null and void.”
In the same week, Washington contradicted this position, saying the ruling is “legally binding.”
“The tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both parties subject to this arbitration, China and the Philippines,” State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a press briefing on Thursday.
“By advancing the peaceful settlement of these disputes, the decision is a victory for the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific. It is in the shared interest of the United States and other countries across the region to sustain the rules-based order so that each nation can reach its potential without sacrificing its national interest or its autonomy,” she added.
Meanwhile, Malacañang said Monday that pursuing diplomatic negotiations with China remains President Duterte’s “best” option to peacefully resolve the lingering territorial dispute.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President, as chief architect of foreign policy, has decided to talk with China than resort to use of force to settle the conflict, adding his critics could run for president if they want to enforce their own proposals.
Panelo made the remarks after Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio suggested several non-war measures to assert the country’s rights over West Philippine Sea.
“Basta sa ngayon ang Presidente, ang option niya ay yung pinaka mahusay and that is negotiation, diplomatic negotiations. Wala nang ibang gaganda dun kasi ang kausap mo dun mismo yung supposed to be kaaway mo [For now the President has chosen the best option and that is negotiation, diplomatic negotiations. There’s nothing else to do but talk to your supposed enemy],” he said during a Palace press briefing.
You don’t want to pick a fight because there might be armed hostility that will endanger our security and lives of our people. So dialogue is the best,” he added in Pilipino.
Carpio earlier listed several options to enforce the country’s arbitral win against China’s sweeping claims in the West Philippine Sea without waging war with the Asian neighbor.
Among the proposals are forging a convention with Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei on exclusive economic zones, filing an extended continental shelf claim in the West Philippines, patrolling the seas with Japan-donated vessels, promoting of freedom of navigation and oversight of the United States and other naval powers. The supposed non-war options were laid down amid criticisms on the President’s alleged soft stance in asserting the country’s’ rights over the West Philippine Sea.
Panelo however claimed that the government has already been pursuing other options mentioned by Carpio such as freedom of navigation operations and coast guard patrols in the country’s territorial waters.
We’ve been patrolling the area. We have coast guards. We’ve been doing that. But negotiation is still the best, that’s the number one, he said in Pilipino.
He said the President has long studied the options on the West Philippine Sea dispute before he even ran for president in 2016 elections.
Fishing in the area
Meanwhile, Lorenzana on Monday night admitted that the Philippines cannot forcibly remove or prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the West Philippine Sea.
“You know even if there is no agreement you can’t also prevent the Chinese to fish there because they have been there all along,” Lorenzana told reporters at the sidelines of the French National Day reception in Makati City.
Lorenzana was responding to a question on whether he is concerned about the recent admission of President Duterte that he has entered into a “verbal agreement” with Chinese President Xi Jinping that would allow Chinese fishermen access to the area that falls under the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The defense chief explained that for the longest time “that area has been a fishing ground for many people like the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans and the Taiwanese, pati Vietnamese.”
He added that even if the President will not allow others to fish in the country’s EEZ, “they will be there.”
“We can’t remove them. In fact, they have already made some islands there within our EEZ how can we remove them there? Tell me,” the secretary stressed.
During fishing season, Lorenzana noted that there are always plenty of Chinese fishing boats operating in the area.
“Going back to my word whether the President said authorize nya o hindi (he will authorize or not) they will be there so I don’t know what is the implication… meron pa ba kayang implication yon?” he stated.