Philippines confident of support on sea row

By Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 02 2014 02:53 AM | Updated as of Apr 02 2014 10:53 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacanang reiterated yesterday that right is might as the Philippines fights for its territorial integrity and sovereignty through peaceful means.

Speaking to reporters, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Philippines is confident of getting the continued support of the international community.

“We are doing what we are capable of doing in terms of the actual conditions obtaining in the West Philippine Sea,” he said. “Over the last few days, there was this re-provisioning of the supplies of our detachment in Ayungin Shoal, which was carried out using a civilian vessel. And the steps that we took were in consonance with our policy of pursuing our position in a peaceful and democratic manner while enjoining the international community to join cause with us in asserting the primacy of the rule of law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Coloma said President Aquino had clearly stated the Philippine position that “we are doing what is needed” amid Chinese harassment of Philippine vessels in Ayungin and Panatag Shoals.

“So we will simply continue doing – what the President also explained (Monday) – what is mandated by the Constitution while pursuing this policy of diplomacy and pursuit of our claims via peaceful means, believing that right is might,” he said.

Coloma said United Nations peacekeepers need not be deployed in the dispute area because the Philippines continues to deal with China despite the filing of the arbitration case.

“There are several avenues for multilateral action, one of which is the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),” he said.

“As we know, the ASEAN in 2012, in the meeting held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, agreed to flesh out the more than decade-old declaration on the code of conduct.

“So there seems to be more willingness on the part of the affected member nations to concretely spell out the parameters for addressing the issues in the South China Sea or in the West Philippine Sea. There are other international bodies that are providing support, such as the European Union and the European community... We will continue to rely on expressions, manifestations and demonstrations of international solidarity.”

Coloma said the government is also rallying the people to be cognizant of the important national interest at stake in the West Philippine Sea dispute.

“In all the major international fora, in all the major international associations where our country is a part, we have firmly and staunchly advocated our position,” he said. “This is especially true in ASEAN, where you will recall there was this particular meeting when it was held in Cambodia under the chairmanship of Premier Hun Sen. And the President himself stood up and asserted that the way that the chair of the ASEAN reported the position of the group was not accurate.”

Coloma said they are pleased that the Philippine position got the unanimous endorsement of all participants in the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit that freedom of navigation and aviation in the area ought to be maintained.

“I don’t think it is accurate for anyone to characterize our strategy as putting our eggs in just one basket because we have been active in all the possible... fora that had given us the opportunity to present our position,” he said.

Rotational presence of US troops

Coloma said negotiations on the increased rotational presence of US troops are a separate issue.

“The West Philippine Sea does not represent the totality of our national interest or our national security concerns,” he said.

“The agreement for enhanced defense cooperation between the Philippines and the US must be viewed within the context of the fact that the Philippines has a strategic partnership with the US.

“But that is to be viewed in the context of the totality of our defense and national security concerns, not just at a single concern such as the West Philippine Sea.”

Coloma said it was possible to discuss the China issue during US President Barack Obama’s visit this month because of defense and security.

“And when we talk of this topic, the most relevant issue that can be discussed would be the West Philippine Sea,” he said. “So, it is entirely within the realm of possibility. But, I believe, there are other issues that will be tackled since what is involved here is a strategic partnership between two countries.”

Chinese incursion

Coloma said the Department of National Defense (DND) and Globe Telecom could look into China’s incursion into the country’s airwaves following reports that a Chinese telecommunications carrier had sent messages welcoming the Filipinos in Ayungin Shoal to China.

“We will just allow them to look into their (Globe’s) own concerns; and if they wish, they can inform us of their findings. Our Department of National Defense will know what appropriate actions are needed,” he said.

Coloma said China was entitled to pursue its own foreign policy in the way that it deems best.

“It is not for me to comment on it,” he said. “It’s just for us to assert our own national interest and to respond appropriately.”

Coloma said the government was not trying to hype the issue through media.

“I don’t think we have hyped or given excessive coverage to this matter,” he said.

“All that we did was to provide an opportunity for some members of media to see firsthand the situation... And they have reported it as they have seen it.

“The conduct of foreign policy dictates that at all times we remain vigilant and responsive to the changing dynamics of international relations. So these are matters that are constantly monitored by our national leadership, by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense and Armed Forces because it is our duty as a sovereign nation to be cognizant of the realities that affect our national security.”

Coloma said the government had taken sufficient measures to ensure the integrity of operations of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) despite a contractual agreement with the Chinese service provider. – With Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Alexis Romero