PH-China mechanism on sea dispute to meet for first time this week

Michelle Ong, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 15 2017 01:27 AM | Updated as of May 15 2017 09:00 AM

BEIJING - The bilateral consultative mechanism (BCM) formed during President Duterte’s first trip to China last year to tackle the South China Sea dispute with China will finally meet for the first time in the next few days.  

Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana earlier said it was scheduled to take place on May 18 and 19, on the sidelines of an ASEAN-China event in the western region of China.  

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Executive Director Evangeline Ong explained the mechanism will allow the Philippines to “separate the tracks where we cooperate well, and where we have issues, where we have issues among ourselves, that (the BCM) is where we put it, these are usually on the South China Sea.” 

Incoming Foreign Affairs Secretary, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano explained the BCM will start off as a "confidence-building" exercise.

“Kung hindi nag-uusap, it’s guess work then tension and possible conflict, but when you open lines, much can be discussed,” he said.  

Cayetano cited, as an example, how the Philippines and China came up with a tentative fisheries agreement following President Duterte’s visit to China last October, that allowed Filipino fishermen to scour through the disputed Scarborough Shoal. 

Cayetano stressed, both countries will continue to be guided by existing laws, court rulings and gains by previous administrations – referring to the Hague ruling in 2016 that favored the Philippines in the maritime row.

“You don’t expect to move mountains in the first meeting. But let me say this, it will remove walls. From a wall, there will not a bridge,” he said.  

Cayetano explained, while the Philippines is not giving up its sovereignty, the disputes should not stop the country from forging trade and economic ties with other claimant countries like China. 

"We’re in the Belt and Road initiative because we don’t want any disputes to stop us from developing our economy and from using all resources available from any of our neighbors.”

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez asked for patience and urged Filipinos to trust that President Duterte will know the right time to bring up the issue.

"We can trust the wisdom of the President as to when is the proper time. He said he will raise that (Hague ruling) in due time, hindi naman binibitawan… put that issue aside, right timing dapat.”