'Balikatan exercises not linked to territorial dispute'
MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino justified the failure of the Philippine government to arrest Chinese fishermen found in Scarborough shoal and confiscate their haul, saying the Philippines does not want to escalate the situation.
“Mas maganda ba sa’yo na ipadala natin lahat ng maritime vessels natin dun, prevent ‘yung Chinese maritime surveillance vessels that are unarmed and force China to react by sending their own military forces? Would escalation serve the national interest?” Aquino told reporters.
“Would you want to escalate the situation? ‘Yun lang naman ang tanong e.”
Aquino said that the BRP Gregorio del Pilar was on its way to an eastern part of the Philippine coastline to guard against the possible fall of debris from the scheduled North Korean rocket launch when the vessel was informed of the sighting of Chinese fishing vessels at the shoal.
He said the Philippine Navy vessel was there to enforce maritime laws.
“Part of their duty also is to enforce our maritime laws. Tinignan nila, ininspect, nakita nga nila lahat ito endangered species. Pareho tayo ng China signatory to a convention called CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)… Part of our job is protect our patrimony,” he said.
But Aquino said the Chinese vessels found at the shoal were unarmed. This is the reason why, he said, the Philippines responded by pulling out the Philippine Navy vessel, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, and replacing it with a civilian vessel from the Philippine Coast Guard.
“As soon as possible, we dispatched a Coast Guard vessel, which is a civilian component. It is under the DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communication). It’s not even a DND (Department of Defense) attached entity or agency, just to demonstrate that we want to deescalate the situation,” he said.
Aquino said that replacing it with and keeping a Philippine Coast Guard vessel in the area is also a way to assert Philippine sovereignty over the shoal.
“Maliwanag naman na napanindigan natin kung ano ang atin,” he said.
“[Coast Guard vessel] 002 will maintain its station to assert our sovereignty over the Scarborough shoal which is, just to be sure… about a hundred sixty from our coastline which is well within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone,” he added.
Balikatan not connected
Aquino stressed that the Balikatan military exercises between the Philippines and the United States are not connected with the country’s standoff with China over the shoal, saying that these have been scheduled “way, way ahead.”
“Walang pakinabang sa atin na sa panahon na dine-deescalate natin, maglalagay pa tayo ng potential na irereklamo ng kabilang panig?” he said.
He also made an appeal not to sensationalize the matter that may provoke China and lead to an escalation of the situation.
“We have been ready to protect our sovereignty to the limits of our capability. I will appeal to all of you…Maski na boxing laban sa China, 1.3 billion sila, 95 million tayo. Maski pitikan ng ilong. Ano ba ang pakinabang natin na i-drama natin tong palalain itong sitwasyon na nangyari para galitin ang isa na humantong doon?” he said.
“Better to jaw-jaw than to war-war”
Aquino said that China’s nine-dash line theory claiming the whole of South China Sea as theirs made the territorial issue more difficult. He acknowledged that it is an important Chinese cultural value to save face.
But he added that the Philippines is seeking a diplomatic solution to the territorial dispute by engaging ASEAN and other claimant parties, including China, to a dialogue.
He pointed out the Philippines and China are still in touch, with a meeting between Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio and Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Ma Qeking scheduled Monday afternoon.
“We have been steadfast. We have two missions: One not to escalate the situation, and two, to protect our sovereignty,” he said.
“I am hopeful na reasonable people can come up with a situation that will resolve the situation.”
Quoting the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Aquino stated that it is not the country’s policy to engage in war.
“Better daw to jaw-jaw-jaw than to war-war-war,” Aquino said.