THE Philippines remains committed to maintaining peace in the contested South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), Malacañang said on Friday, April 12.
This was the assurance of Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, after the Philippines and the United States (US) conducted joint military exercises from April 1 to 12.
“It is our principled stand that the peace in the West Philippine Sea should be maintained,” Panelo said in a statement issued Friday night.
As part of the joint military drill by two nations, a US Navy warship has been training with Philippine Navy ships in Subic Bay and in international waters off the South China Sea.
The USS Wasp, a helicopter carrier of the US Marines with F35B Lightning II fighter jets, reportedly sailed near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal that China has occupied since 2012.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said Wednesday, April 10, that it is China’s “principled position” that non-regional forces like the US should “refrain from stirring up troubles in the calm South China Sea.”
Panelo said the Philippine government agreed that the sea dispute can be best threshed out through “peaceful negotiation and consultation,” in a bid to bolster ties with China for a “solid partnership beneficial to Filipino and Chinese communities.”
The Palace official, however, stressed that the Philippines also acknowledged the July 2016 ruling of Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, which invalidated China’s sweeping claims to South China Sea.
“We have been informed of the recent statement of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the issue of the disputed areas at the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
“We remain steadfast in maintaining our claims with respect to our territory and exclusive economic zones pursuant not only to the said arbitral judgment based on accepted principles of public international law but consistent with the directives of our Constitution and the aspirations of the Filipino people,” Panelo said.
Panelo also expressed hope that China would refrain from putting Filipino fishermen at disadvantage, noting that such move might affect the relations between the two countries.
He made the statement following the reported presence of Chinese vessels near Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, which has already been questioned through diplomatic protest lodged by the Manila against Beijing.
“China should avoid performing acts that will place at risk the Filipino fishermen fishing in the disputed areas and at the same time cause irritants that will disrupt the current friendly relations of the two countries as well as imperil future bilateral negotiations on matters of mutual concern,” he said.