MANILA, Philippines - The raging West Philippine Sea territorial dispute between the Philippines and China should be resolved using the rule of law and not force, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs William Hague said yesterday.
“We want to see the peaceful resolutions of such disputes in accordance with international law. We fully accept that the Philippines is entitled to pursue legal remedies. But we do not take a position on the substance of the claims. That is for the Tribunal. That would be for them to determine,” he said.
Hague said although the United Kingdom is not a claimant to the contested territories, it is closely monitoring developments.
He suggested that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which belong some of the countries claiming whole or parts of territories in the West Philippine Sea, could play an active role in the resolution of conflict.
“ASEAN can also contribute to advancing international security, including important efforts to regularize conduct in the South China Sea. I urge all parties to these disputes to seek peaceful and cooperative solutions in accordance with international law.”
He said the UK, although not a claimant in the disputes, has an interest, as all nations do, in peaceful solutions of the case.
Hague spoke before members of the business community, media and academe in Makati City as part of his visit to the country.
He underscored the need to build stronger ties between the United Kingdom and the Philippines and congratulated efforts of the Aquino administration to boost the country’s economy with its thrust on good governance.
“Your high rates of economic growth are testament to a strong economic policy and the hard work of Filipinos home and abroad, including thousands of them in my own country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hague said support by groups in Mindanao for the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would help end the fighting in the region.
He said the government has done tremendous work with other people in bringing about the agreement and the annexes agreed on, noting that Filipinos have found a solution to a problem that has divided the country for too long.
He added that it is now important for everyone and all groups to support the negotiated peace agreement.
He said the UK has its own long and difficult but ultimately successful experience of a peace process in Northern Ireland, which has brought about a tremendous positive change for the people of Northern Ireland.
“We want to see you benefit from that and the Philippines as well. The best thing now is for everyone to rally behind the agreement that has been made, and for all groups in that region to support the agreement. And the quickest way is to bring an end to any fighting that prevails,” Hague stressed.
At least 37 gunmen of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), including child warriors, have been killed as government troops continue their offensives on the rebels’ lairs in Maguindanao.
Clashes erupted late Tuesday and lasted until around 1 p.m. Wednesday in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saydona and Datu Piang towns where most encounters were concentrated.
A big bulk of the BIFF forces are operating in the towns of Datu Piang, Shariff Saidona, Salibo, Mamasapano and Datu Saudi.
During a bilateral meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Hague praised the government for the completion of the Annexes to the FAB (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro) with the signing of the Annex on Normalization on Jan. 25.
He conveyed interest in continuing UK’s participation in promoting peace and development in Mindanao and expressed hope for the early conclusion of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
In a message of congratulations on Sunday, Hague said the successful conclusion of negotiations between the government and the MILF for a comprehensive peace agreement is a significant step toward lasting peace and development for Mindanao.
He said ending the long-running conflict would not only benefit the region, where reside Muslims, Christians and indigenous peoples of Mindanao, but also be key to security and economic development of the Philippines as a whole.
As member of the International Contact Group, Hague said UK witnessed the leadership and commitment of President Aquino and the sincerity of the MILF leadership.