‘PH-US war exercises not meant to provoke China’
MANILA, Philippines - Malacanang hopes the war games with United States soldiers this week will not provoke China, which remains on a stalemate with the country over claims in the Scarborough Shoal.
In an interview with radio dzRB, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said: “[The Balikatan exercises] don’t have anything to with the incident in the Panatag Shoal. The exercises are always scheduled in advance.”
The country will hold its “Balikatan” exercises with the US beginning Monday. The war games involve more than 2,000 Filipino troops and 4,500 US soldiers.
She also said there is no need to seek the help of the US regarding the Scarborough incident. “The DFA has already spoken on that. As far as I understand…The diplomatic process involves two sides -- the Philippines and China.”
Valte, meanwhile, reiterated that the country has jurisdiction over the shoal even as the Chinese vessels that earlier entered the area were able to leave with their catch.
The Philippine Navy, through its newly commissioned BRP Gregorio del Pilar, found eight fishing boats in the area and accused them of fishing illegally.
Two Chinese Marine Surveillance Ships immediately barricaded the boats, however, saying it was the Navy that was harassing its citizens.
Unlike in other islands at the West Philippine Sea, China and Philippines are the only ones competing over Scarborough Shoal. The disputed waters in the whole West Philippine Sea are believed to be rich in resources, which had triggered conflicts among nations.
Days after, all Chinese fishing boats left. Authorities failed to "confiscate" the giant clams, coral and live sharks harvested "illegally.”
Valte said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will be the most knowledgeable to answer the matter. Nonetheless, she said “this remains to be an unresolved issue.”
“Our position has always been that first we have maintained our claim over, our jurisdiction, our authority over Panatag Shoal. But, having said that, we must always resort to the diplomatic solution. We must always avail of the diplomatic process to settle incidents like this one which is we have always deferred to the DFA when it comes to situations like these,” she said.
She said the Philippine Coast Guard should also not be blamed.
“You have to remember that while obviously the DFA is the lead, we are always seeking a diplomatic solution. That’s why even the Coast Guard and the Navy coordinate their efforts with the DFA to make sure na isa lang po ‘yung ating pinupuntahan,” she said.
Ambassador to China
Valte, meanwhile, said the DFA is handling the incident very well sans an ambassador to China.
Some quarters have already called for a high-level diplomatic solution to the problem in Scarborough. The lack of an ambassador remains a problem, however.
The Aquino appointee, Domingo Lee, has yet to get the nod of the Commission on Appointments. The constitutional body deferred several times his appointment.
Malacanang has insisted on its choice, however.
“There are issues that Mr. Lee has to answer before the Commission on Appointments. But, be that as it may, Secretary Albert del Rosario has been heading the diplomatic efforts to address the issue,” Valte said.