PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Toward the end of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting with Japan on Monday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly stated that there was a consensus among Southeast Asian countries locked in territorial disputes with China that they would settle their problems with China alone.
Upon hearing the Prime Minister mention an “ASEAN-China framework,” President Aquino raised his hand to speak, said Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.
“There were several views expressed yesterday on ASEAN unity which we did not realize would be translated into an ASEAN consensus. For the record, this was not our understanding. The ASEAN route is not the only route for us. As a sovereign state, it is our right to defend our national interests,” Coloma quoted the President as saying.
According to Coloma, Prime Minister Hun Sen acknowledged President Aquino’s statement and said it would be reflected in the records of the meeting.
Coloma explained that Cambodia’s statement limits the Philippines options in dealing with its territorial disputes with China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“Hindi isinasama ang kabuuan ng lahat ng mga option, lahat ng avenues for resolution na available sa isang estado,” he told reporters in a briefing.
The Philippines seeks to resolve its disputes with China through different ways following international law like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
It is also pushing for a code of conduct that will bind all countries with claims on the South China Sea.
China, on other hand, insists on one-on-one discussions with the sea’s other claimant countries.
Coloma said the Philippines’ assertion of its right to defend its own territory does not go against ASEAN unity.
“We have the inherent right to protect our national interest in the way that is appropriate,” he said.
In a letter to fellow ASEAN foreign ministers on Sunday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines agrees with the principle of ASEAN unity.
“It is, nevertheless, the inherent right of every sovereign state to defend its national interest when deemed necessary,” Del Rosario wrote.
At the 15th ASEAN-Japan Summit, President Aquino brought up the issue of maritime disputes and the need to resolve them.
Mr. Aquino said rules must be followed in relations among countries.
"The rule of law, such as that enshrined in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), must therefore be the bedrock of engagement with other members of the community of nations," he said.
"The Philippines will continue to uphold this principle in its engagement with ASEAN, Japan, and other stakeholders, as the region strives to resolve overlapping maritime claims."
Mr. Aquino also said he looks forward to better economic ties among ASEAN countries and Japan through the ASEAN-Japan 10-Year Strategic Economic Cooperation Roadmap.
At a separate meeting of ASEAN leaders with South Korea, President Aquino discussed the need to fight human trafficking.
He called on ASEAN and South Korea to stop the problem through information-sharing among authorities.
"The availability of several migration pathways requires us to take a closer look at national and regional mechanisms that will protect and promote the rights and welfare of our peoples, ensuring that they do not fall prey to the nefarious activities of human traffickers and smugglers," Mr. Aquino said.
He also expressed concern about the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran.
President Aquino added that a sense of "mutual respect and equality" is behind the Philippines' signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its support for global nuclear disarmament.
"As a believer in rules, we therefore support calls for Iran and the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) to abide by relevant UN resolutions, and allow regular inspections by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)," the President said.