Robredo backs multilateral talks to equalize PH-China footing in sea dispute

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 23 2021 01:08 PM

Robredo backs multilateral talks to equalize PH-China footing in sea dispute 1
A group of protesters from Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas holds a protest in front of the Chinese Consular Office in Makati on January 29, 2021. The group urged the Philippine government to show its defiance against Beijing’s recently passed Coast Guard Law ordering their fleet to shoot anyone they consider as foreigners in the West Philippine Sea, an area also claimed by the Philippines and other ASEAN countries. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday said Manila is at a disadvantage during bilateral talks with Beijing, and backs multilateral approach instead to settle the two countries' maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

The Philippines and China held the sixth meeting of the bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea on Saturday.

"Matagal na pong pinapahayag ng mga eksperto na hindi makatutulong sa bansa natin ang bilateral talks with China kasi napakaliit natin kumpara sa kanila. Parang 'di magiging patas, di patas yung standing," Robredo said in her weekly radio show.

(Experts have said for so long that bilateral talks with China won't help us because we're too small compared with them. The standing is not equal.)

"Tingin natin, ma-equalize lang ang footing 'pag meron tayong kakampi na pareho yung ipinaglalaban sa atin."

(Our footing will be equalized if we had allies with similar concerns.)

The Philippines' 2016 arbitral victory over China's sweeping claims in the disputed sea would encourage other nations to hold multilateral talks if Manila had touted it, according to Robredo.

"'Yun sana dapat ang basehan para mag-unite tayo. Mas malakas ang loob natin, mas malakas ang loob ng ibang bansang makipag-ugnayan satin kasi meron tayong hawak na desisyon," she said.

(That would've been the basis for our unity. It would have strengthened our resolve because we hold an arbitral tribunal's decision.)

China rejects a multilateral approach in dealing with countries that are contesting its sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea.

Former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and many other analysts have been pushing for the internationalization of the disputes, noting what they regard as China's bullying in the South China Sea.

It is also important for the Philippines to have "one voice," Robredo said.

"Hindi nakakatulong iba-iba yung sinsabi. At dapat inaayos yung pagkasabi kasi 'pag sovereignty natin at territory ang concern, napaka-sensitive na issue yan na hindi ito pwedeng basta-basta lang ang sasabihin," she said.

(It doesn't help that officials say different things. We should be careful with what we say because it concerns our sovereignty and territory.)

"Kailangan calculated, kailangan sisiguraduhin natin na yung sinasabi natin hindi tayo mailalagay sa alanganin."

(It should be calculated, we should ensure that whatever we say, we won't be put in jeopardy.)

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The Vice President earlier said she was "seriously concerned" over President Rodrigo Duterte's recent remarks that the arbitral ruling was just a "piece of paper."

Duterte issued the statement even as his foreign and defense ministers have been asking China to comply with the ruling and stop its incursions in Philippine waters.

Manila and Beijing's maritime spat flared again in March after more than 200 Chinese boats were spotted in the West Philippine Sea. China has refused repeated calls from the Philippines to withdraw the boats, prompting Manila to intensify maritime patrols in the area.

Duterte said he would not withdraw Philippine ships from disputed waters after he drew flak over his remark that his campaign promise for fishermen in disputed seas was a joke. 

The President had forged friendlier relations with China upon assuming his post in 2016, setting aside the landmark arbitral award in favor of economic aid and investments.