Sea disputes to take spotlight in PH-China meeting

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2017 07:33 PM

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera. Reuters

MANILA - The Department of Foreign (DFA) Affairs has given the assurance that the unresolved South China Sea dispute would be raised at the first bilateral meeting between the Philippines and China on Friday.

DFA spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said Thursday that the meeting would be part of the bilateral consultative mechanism (BCM) established exclusively to tackle maritime issues.

"That's the purpose of the BCM. Whether there's going to be an extensive discussion, 'yun ang hindi natin masabi," he said.

Bolivar said he expected the organizational aspect or terms of reference of the BCM to be discussed at the inaugural meeting set in Guiyang, China. Philippine ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana will lead the Philippine delegation.

"Since inaugural meeting siya, ang importanteng madecide-an natin diyan is how do we institutionalize the process, how do we move forward," he said.

Bolivar said the country's general thrust in dealing with maritime issues was to protect its territorial integrity.

Asked about a proposal by former speaker Jose De Venecia to have a joint exploration of the South China Sea with China and Vietnam, Bolivar said officials would have to make sure first that such move would be constitutional.

"We have to make sure that any proposal will have to fit the Constitution… It has to be constitutional, it has to be compliant with all of our laws and in the national interest," he said.

SUBHEAD: ASEAN-China meeting to tackle maritime issues 

Meanwhile, the DFA official said maritime issues in the South China Sea would also be discussed in an upcoming meeting between the the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China.

Four ASEAN members- the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia- have partial claims to the resource-rich waters, competing with China's claim to nearly all of sea. 

Bolivar said the ASEAN and China would discuss the dispute along with all aspects of relations, including economic issues.

He said the goals remained for ASEAN and China to complete the framework for a code of conduct before the year ends.

"They're trying to fast track the code, kasi yun din ang commitment ng China."

Bolivar, meanwhile, said the DFA was still verifying reports that China has installed rocket launchers on a disputed reef in the South China Sea to ward off Vietnamese military combat divers.

"Unang-una, is it a new installation? If it's a new installation, then we can decide how to move forward. So kailangan i-confirm muna," he said. --Report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News