MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas on Tuesday said he told the Chinese vice-president that the Philippines is not setting aside its sovereignty claim on Panatag Shoal.
Speaking to reporters, Roxas said he was sent by President Aquino to Beijing to meet Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to ensure that his message is conveyed properly and not lost in translation.
"We said logically, because of proximity to our mainland, historically, commonsensically and legally because of [the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea], we have had this claim over Panatag Shoal for all this time," he said.
"We clearly expressed that we have a claim on Panatag Shoal and that it is well-established that it is ours," he added.
Roxas noted that in previous years, Chinese poachers caught fishing in Panatag Shoal were always arrested by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) but later released. It was only last April that the Chinese government decided to block the PCG from arresting Chinese fishermen who were again caught fishing in the shoal.
He also said his meeting with Xi was conducted in a cordial atmosphere notwithstanding the conflicting claims on the disputed shoal.
The Philippines says the shoal is well within the country's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as recognized by international law.
But China claims the entire South China Sea as its historical territory, even up to the coasts of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.
He said the Chinese side expresed openness to discuss the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, which the Philippines has named the West Philippine Sea.
He said the meeting was meant to "restart the engagement" with China.
Roxas said he does not know if the Philippines will continue "back-channel" negotiations with the Chinese side amid revelations that Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV was the country's back-channel negotiator at the height of tensions with China.
He said: "I think the President is entitled to use such channels as he deems necessary - front, back, side, window - in order to further Philippine national interest. And he is also entitled to employ parallel processes. He is entitled to balance out which messages or which procedures he deems necessary. His mandate is to protect Philippine interests." With Agence France-Presse