BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, BRUNEI -- President Benigno Aquino III said he believes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is moving "in the right direction" when its leaders spoke of the need for a peaceful resolution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea with no member-state objecting.
The issue was discussed Wednesday night during the working dinner hosted by Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at the Prime Minister's Office who brought up the topic and spoke of the need to maintain "calm" in the region and "sober dialogue."
Aquino told reporters that the meeting "went well" with the Philippines being able to state its position on putting the country's territorial dispute with China before the arbitral tribunal. The Philippines also pushed for the crafting of a legally-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Aquino noted the need for a set of rules that will define the parties' "obligations" and "entitlements" especially since it has already been more than ten years since the code was envisioned.
"There might be a consensus reached that really pushes the matter forward to really define everybody's entitlements and obligations. Instead of being put on a low priority, it has been put on a, in effect-hindi naman natin sasabihin na dominant position-but it is one of the priority areas and nobody has objected and everybody was listening and discussing it. So that I think is a step in the right direction," Aquino said after the working dinner.
Aquino said there is "unity in purpose" among the neighboring countries in believing that disputes should be "managed" in a peaceful manner and that tensions should not be heightened.
"Imbes na magtaasan ng tensions, parang may talagang conscious effort from all aspects, if not, to come up with that binding Code of Conduct (COC) to at least ensure that there is no escalation of these disputes into things that might be-become bloody. So may unity of purpose and one can always be hopeful that that will lead to something more concrete," he said.
There were no fireworks when the ASEAN leaders met Wednesday night, unlike in last November's meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where President Aquino raised a point to dispute a statement made by then host Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that the ASEAN countries had supposedly reached a consensus not to "internationalize" the disputes in the South China Sea, a position taken by China.
"Everybody's interested in having a peaceful resolution and also in voicing that there is a concern na there have been increasing, shall we say, disputes; the emphasis on resolving, again, this matter in a peaceful manner," Aquino said.
"So 'yung sober and calm approaches, continuing dialogues, is already I think also the direction that we are taking. So we are thankful to all of the ASEAN member countries that we are putting this on the agenda and moving forward, especially since… when we last met that was already the 10th anniversary of trying to come up with a COC."