PNoy: Solution to Scarborough dispute forthcoming

by Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 24 2012 02:55 PM | Updated as of May 25 2012 02:56 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino hinted that a resolution to the country’s standoff with China over Scarborough Shoal is forthcoming.

At the same time, the President is not worried about the projected five percent decline in he number of tourists coming into the country because of the cancellation of tour bookings from China. Aquino prefers to look at the glass as half-full, saying that tourists from other markets can replace the five percent.

“Sabi nila may problema tayong sigalot sa isang bansang kalapit natin ngayon, malapit na ho yatang malutas ’yan. Pero sabi nila: ‘Kawawa ang tourism sector natin, 5 percent ng turista natin mawawala.’ Sabi ko: “Okay ‘yon a, 5 percent ang inintindi niyo, ’yung 95 percent kinalimutan niyo.” Tama ho ba? Syempre pagsinabi nating sasama ang sitwasyon natin—5 percent, uulit-ulitin ‘yan. Wow, parang krisis. Ako ho kasi parang, ‘di ba, baka dapat intindihin natin ang ibang reyalidad: may 95 percent na naiwan sa worst case scenario. ‘Yung 5 percent pwedeng palitan. Pero ang masakit nga ho nito, meron ho tayong mga sektor, talaga hong ‘guguho na ang mundo natin’ dahil nawala ‘yung 5 percent,” Aquino said in his speech during the National Career Congress.

China recently deployed more ships to Scarborough shoal. As of Monday night, there were five Chinese government vessels -- up from three -- and 16 fishing boats in the area, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday.

The Philippines has lodged a fresh protest with the Chinese embassy over the build-up, DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

Using the shoal's Philippine name, Hernandez added: "The Philippines, therefore, demands that China's vessels immediately pull out from Bajo de Masinloc and the Philippines' exclusive economic zone."

China's official Xinhua news agency said controls have been "strengthened" in the area and quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying it had "about 20 fishing boats" near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, "roughly the same number as in previous years".

China claims the shoal along with most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its Asian neighbours, while the Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Cranking up tensions, both countries have had ships posted around the shoal since early April, when Chinese vessels prevented a Philippine Navy ship from arresting Chinese fishermen.

The two claimants had vowed to de-escalate the tensions and both imposed separate fishing bans in the area from May 16, while Philippine President Aquino stopped a planned protest trip to the shoal by a Philippine ex-soldier.

Hernandez said Chinese fishermen appeared to be breaking their own ban.

"They are fishing and collecting corals," he said.

He said the two governments were still in talks over the dispute, and the alleged Chinese build-up only served to "escalate tension" around the shoal.

Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia also claim parts of the South China Sea.

The rival claims have for decades made the waters one of Asia's potential military flashpoints. -- with Agence France-Presse