MANILA — Business, political and security experts on Saturday called for calm amid renewed tensions in the West Philippine Sea following a Chinese ship's ramming of a Filipino fishing boat near Recto (Reed) Bank off Palawan last Sunday.
Bobby Tuazon, executive director of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, said the boat-ramming incident requires thorough investigation and should be settled quickly through a mutual approach.
“You have to be cautious and not right away act hastily. For instance, we have to consider the fact that in China today, there are 200,000 to 300,000 overseas Filipino workers,” he said in a media forum on the 44th anniversary of Philippines-China relations in Quezon City.
Tuazon noted China's role in helping drive Philippine economy.
“‘Pag nagkaroon talaga ng irritant at lumaki ’yung issue tulad nang nangyari noong panahon ni Noynoy Aquino, China has the capacity to react like they stopped importing bananas tapos naging mahirap ang visa application sa China,” he added.
(If there is an irritant and the issue becomes bigger like what happened in the time of Noynoy Aquino, China has the capacity to react like they stopped importing bananas and then the visa applications to China became hard.)
Ties between the Philippines and China were testy during the time of then president Benigno Aquino III, whose administration initiated an arbitration case against Beijing over its expansive claims in the South China Sea.
Part of the waters within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone is locally called the West Philippine Sea, where the latest incident happened on June 9.
George Siy of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industries Inc. said the incident should not affect growing economic ties between the two nations.
He said China is a valued partner of the Philippines in trade and investment, among many other fields.
“We have to address these issues but we cannot also let them define the direction of where we are going,” he said.
He added: “If the people are extremely unhappy or if there are people creating enough political noise, maybe it will affect some of the legislation, some of the deals. We hope not. Because these deals should depend on whether these are good for both countries and not based on external events.”
In a separate interview, Rommel Banlaoi, president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, said the Philippines has done its part by articulating its position on the South China Sea dispute through statements from the defense and foreign affairs departments.
He said government should calm the public down to avoid complicating the issue.
“Matindi ang emosyon ng mga Pilipino dito, at makikita mo sa China ganon din kaya nagkakaroon ng chain of reaction at overreaction,” he said.
(The emotion of Filipinos in this issue is strong, and you can also see that in China, that is why there is a chain of reaction and overreaction.)
He added: “‘Pag hindi mapahupa ang galit ng mga tao, magkakaroon iyan ng violent incident na nangyari na sa ibang mga bansa. Halimbawa sa Vietnam, sinunog ang mga business establishment na associated sa China. Ganon din sa China, nagkaroon sila ng problema sa Japan over sa Senkaku; sinusunog nila, binabato ang mga establishment.”
(If you fail to pacify the people, it could result in violent incidents that also happened in other countries. For example in Vietnam, business establishments associated with China were set on fire. In China, they had a problem with Japan over Senkaku; they burned and threw stones at establishments.)
Vietnam also has partial claims in the South China Sea. China and Japan are, meanwhile, locked in a dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Banlaoi said President Rodrigo Duterte is also practicing “cautiousness” by keeping mum on the issue. This would, in turn, preserve the already blossoming relations between the Philippines and China.
Duterte has pursued friendlier relations with China, shelving the country's July 2016 victory in its case against Beijing over South China Sea incursions. The ruling invalidated China's 9-dash line claim.
The Philippines readily filed a diplomatic protest against China over the incident, where a Chinese vessel hit and sank a Filipino boat, leaving behind 22 fishermen. They were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
China claimed the Chinese crewmen tried to rescue the Filipinos but that they were "besieged" by several Filipino vessels. Opposition lawmakers have branded this claim a lie.