MANILA - Malacañang welcomed yesterday the United States’ expression of support for the Philippines’ peaceful moves to settle the dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
“We note the US affirmation of its commitment to abide by its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines, as well as its support of the case filed at an arbitration tribunal,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
“Adherence to the rule of law and commitment to peaceful settlement of differences among neighboring countries are vital building blocks in achieving regional peace and stability,” he said.
Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for East Asia, said there should be no doubt about the resolve of America to stand by its allies and meet its commitments amid tensions between Manila and Beijing over their territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines has been protesting China’s aggressive moves on Ayungin (Second Thomas) and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoals, particularly the harassment of Philippine vessels going to these areas.
According to Russel, some Asian countries feared that Russia’s annexation of Crimea could serve as a precedent for Beijing.
Russel said Russia’s move had heightened concern, particularly among some Southeast Asian nations, about the possibility of China “threatening force or other forms of coercion to advance their territorial interests.”
Russel said China’s “intimidating steps” toward the Philippines appeared to reflect its “anger and discontent” over the country’s filing of a case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in The Hague on March 30, a move which China rejected.
“It is incumbent on all the claimants to foreswear intimidation, coercion and other non-diplomatic or extralegal means,” Russel said.
In recent days, China has accused the Philippines of seriously damaging their relations and threatened to impose sanctions for going to the ITLOS.
But Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario reiterated that “arbitration is a peaceful, friendly and a durable settlement mechanism under international law.”
Del Rosario said the world could judge countries by their actions and not just words and that between the Philippines and China, it was quite clear who had not been adopting peaceful and diplomatic means to assert its claims.
Del Rosario did not dignify China’s propaganda but said, “The Philippines makes clear that it will continue to exercise self-restraint and will not raise tension in the West Philippine Sea.”
He said the Philippines is not the country that has greatly increased its naval and maritime presence in the West Philippine Sea.
Russel said China must demonstrate its commitment to peacefully resolving its territorial disputes.
He added China was economically interdependent with the US and its Asian neighbors, and the prospect of the kind of sanctions that had been imposed against Russian banks and government cronies should have a “chilling effect on anyone in China who might contemplate the Crimea annexation as a model.”
Vice President Jejomar Binay also appealed to China yesterday to stop its bullying tactics in Panatag Shoal.
Binay said he was saddened by China’s growing hostility against local civilian and military elements, including the attempted blockade of a civilian ship carrying fresh supplies and rotation personnel to the BRP Sierra Madre grounded on Ayungin Shoal.
For his part, Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian urged China yesterday to take the diplomatic track in resolving its territorial row with the Philippines.
Gatchalian cited China’s move to reject the recent 10-volume memorial or written argument filed by the Philippines with the United Nations last March 30 against China’s claims over the West Philippine Sea.
The document details the country’s arguments on the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction over the case as well as the documentary evidence and maps supporting the Philippines’ claims.
“China’s position on the annexation of Crimea by Russia is inconsistent with its hardline stance in the West Philippine Sea conflict with our country. China goads all parties concerned with the annexation to stick the diplomatic route; it should do the same in relation with its territorial conflict with the Philippines. It should accept the case filed by our country,” Gatchalian said.
In a report by Reuters, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said all parties in the Ukraine crisis should “maintain restraint to prevent the situation from further escalating and worsening” and that “political resolution and dialogue” is the only solution to the problem.
Gatchalian said China should face the arbitration case filed by the Philippines, adding that it will abate the strain in relations between the two countries.
“Diplomacy is crucial to managing disputes and achieving peace,” he said. – With Paolo Romero, Jaime Laude