Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Phl eyes legal options on Panatag Shoal

The country is finally eyeing legal remedies before international forums to resolve its territorial dispute with China over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday.

“We can tell you that we are now exploring with great initiative the legal option,” he told the House committee on appropriations, which conducted a hearing on the 2013 budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“We can’t reveal the details of our move in public, but we can provide them to you in a closed-door session,” he said.

Del Rosario made the statement in response to questions raised by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who said the government should now bring the Panatag Shoal issue to international bodies such as the United Nations for “compulsory arbitration.”

“I think we should do that because diplomatic and political efforts to resolve it have failed due to China’s intransigence,” he said.

Rodriguez said the disputed area is clearly within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone under the UN on the Law of the Sea. The shoal is just 124 miles off Zambales, and more than 400 miles from the nearest Chinese territory.

He lamented that for the first time in decades, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed in its recent meeting in Cambodia to come up with a joint communiquƩ containing its common stand on the problem in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“That was because of China’s influence over Cambodia. A Cambodian diplomat even had the gall to turn off the microphone while you were speaking, Mr. Secretary,” Rodriguez told Del Rosario.

The DFA chief also said China appears to be taking its own sweet time in considering an ASEAN proposal for a Code of Conduct in the West Philippine Sea.

“China has taken a position that it would consider discussing the proposed Code of Conduct with ASEAN when the time is right. We don’t know when that would be. The proposed code would be binding on all parties,” he said.

He said the Philippines has suggested “some fundamental elements” that have been incorporated in the code.

Del Rosario agreed with some members of the appropriations committee that only the DFA should speak for the country when it comes to foreign relations-related issues like the conflict over Panatag Shoal.

“That should be the appropriate protocol. But there are officials who have been asked about this issue and they have responded in their own way. I think the protocol should be restated,” he said.

Manila Rep. Zenaida Angping, who presided over the hearing as head of a subcommittee in charge of the DFA budget, said even lawmakers should avoid making statements on the country’s territorial dispute with China.

Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay said President Aquino’s spokespersons Edwin Lacierda, Ricky Carandang and Abigail Valte have issued statements “that further incensed China.”

“As a result, they retaliated by banning the entry of Philippine bananas in their territory,” she said.  -The Philippine Star (August 14, 2012)

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