MANILA -- Malacañang on Tuesday said bringing the country’s arbitration win against China before the United Nations (UN) General Assembly is an option to address the dispute in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.
“Iyon ang isa sa mga puwedeng gawin natin. Sabi ko, mayroong mga issues ng ibang bansa na dinadala sa General Assembly and they take unified action (That’s one of the actions we can do. I said, there are issues in other countries brought before the General Assembly and they take unified action),” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
Panelo made this comment after former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Del Rosario said the Philippines can bring the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)’s ruling on the WPS before the UN body.
“Everything is possible. Kung (if) you’re talking of possibilities, maraming posible (there are a lot of possibilities). But whether magiging (it will be) effective or not is another story,” Panelo said.
He also said President Rodrigo R. Duterte will have the final word on whether the Philippine government would proceed with this move.
“Isa sa mga option iyon (That’s one of the options). I will let—I’m not the President, I’m just his Spokesman. It’s for the President’s decision. I’m just giving you my thoughts on it,” he added.
Panelo said he will also ask Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. “what are his thoughts on this”.
Panelo, meanwhile, said that Chinese vessels allegedly surrounding Pag-asa Island in the WPS should leave since the government has already filed a diplomatic protest against China.
“Nagrereklamo na nga tayo ‘bakit kayo nandiyan, oh di effectively pinaaalis mo na iyon’ (We already complained, ‘why are you there?’ then effectively, that’s asking them to leave),” Panelo said.
“We already filed a note verbale on that, we’re against it,” he added.
Locsin confirmed in a Tweet that Philippine government has served a “salvo of diplomatic notes” to China over the presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island.
Panelo said it will take the word of the Philippine military that the Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island are Chinese maritime militia, contrary to the claim of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua that they belong to fishermen.
“The military command says, from their point of view, its militia men. Sino bang paniniwalaan ko, eh di siyempre iyong military (Who else would I believe, of course the military),” Panelo said.
“Whatever the military says, I will defer to them. They are the person on the ground, they should know better,” he added.
Zhao earlier said the alleged Chinese vessels belong to fishermen although reports on their presence are still subject to verification.
“They are actually fishermen if they are fishing there, they must be fishermen. (They are) not armed, so far as I know, they are not armed at all,” Zhao said in a chance interview with reporters before his meeting with Panelo in Malacañan Palace on Monday.
“Well we do not know whether there are militia men in that area or not but it is clearly it is an area that is disputed,” he added, urging media to verify reports with Defense Secretary Defin Lorenzana.
Zhao, however, allayed fears that there would be any sort of conflict in the disputed waters since both Chinese and Philippine governments are settling issues using “friendly and diplomatic channels”.
“We have been handling this issue through friendly and diplomatic channels so you don’t have to worry about whether there would be any kind of outbreak of conflict or not,” Zhao said.
Panelo maintained that the bilateral mechanism being undertaken by the Philippine government in dealing with China on the maritime dispute is “effective”.
“I think so. You know why? Because prior to the assumption of the presidency—prior to the visit of the President sa (in) Beijing, iyong mga fishermen natin tinataboy talaga eh (our fishermen were being sent away),” Panelo said.
Panelo said that, at present, Filipino fishermen have access to fish in the disputed South China Sea.
On July 12, 2016, the Hague-based PCA released its decision nullifying China’s nine-dash line map which covers nearly the whole of WPS.
China rejected the ruling, prompting Duterte to temporarily shelve it to allow peaceful and friendly dialogues.
Duterte, however, vowed to assert the PCA’s verdict before the end of his term in 2022. (PNA)