MANILA, Philippines — Chinese fishermen around Pag-asa Island in the South China Sea should start leaving the area following the diplomatic protest filed by the Philippine government, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said yesterday.
“Can you tell me what is — what other strong message can you give to them, except to leave the place,” Panelo said when asked about the next step following the diplomatic protest about the alleged harassment by Chinese fishermen.
Panelo warned the Philippines will “look for another course of action to assert our sovereignty” if Beijing continues to ignore the protest.
Panelo said the matter on the alleged incursions of China into the disputed areas at the South China Sea could be dealt with by the United Nations in its General Assembly.
He said the idea is not farfetched from the realm of possibility — sharing the opinion of former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario.
Del Rosario suggested bringing up the 2016 arbitral ruling before the UN to enforce maritime claims against China.
“Personally, as I said before, the arbitral ruling is there permanently. They cannot remove it from us. It appears, we cannot enforce it because we do not have the might,” Panelo said.
Panelo echoed President Duterte’s stand against sending troops to enforce the arbitral ruling.
“I don’t think that this President will risk the lives of our soldiers going there and declaring war,” he said. “I am just giving you what I thought, what could be done. That is what Del Rosario is also saying.”
Panelo said he will have to consult with the President over his legal opinion as well as check with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on the other options the Philippines has relating to asserting its rights under the UN arbitration ruling.
The next step
Since the United States and the UN appeared uninterested in enforcing the arbitral ruling, Panelo urged the UN General Assembly to act on the issue.
“So, what is the next step, we are a member of the UN, and there are cases where certain issues that happen in a particular country that affect humanity are raised in the General Assembly. Then the GA makes a unified action, maybe that’s it,” he said.
Panelo made the statement after Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua met with him last Monday to thank the Philippine government for saying that it has nothing to do with the move of Del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to file a complaint before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Panelo told a television interview that he understands the sentiments of the Chinese official about the ICC complaint.
“Whether it’s the government or a private individual, I think China will be antagonized in a way because you’re trying to paint their President bad. I mean, that’s your natural reaction,” Panelo said.
While he seems careful on hurting the good diplomatic relations with Beijing, Panelo said Manila won’t allow any destruction of the environment in relation to Chinese movements at the South China Sea.
Panelo argued that an independent study should be done on reports that Beijing had damaged the environment in the area.
Panelo agreed with the findings of the UN tribunal which discussed “China’s large-scale land reclamations and construction of artificial islands at the seven features of the Spratlys Island have caused severe harm to the environment.”
He added that President Duterte cannot risk the “friendlier” relations between the two countries when asked why the Philippine government cannot directly confront Beijing over the issues.
“Well – you must remember… that we are on a friendly relations. We are having these trade and bilateral agreements and we are exchanging intelligence information with respect to the fight against terrorism and illegal drugs. So, we are supposed to be friends,” he said.
All concerns about the presence of Chinese vessels as well as the reported harassment of Filipino fishermen are done through the PH-CH Bicameral Consultation Mechanism, Panelo said.
“For as long as they are not doing some harm against the fishermen physically, then —while we are alarmed about it and we are concerned about it and we are going to take that as an issue in incoming bilateral meetings and of course tell them that you can’t do this to us if we are friends,” he said.
Doctrine of dominance
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Chinese have long been encroaching into the country’s maritime domain since 2012.
“It’s very concerning. In fact, they have been doing the building of islands from reefs since, I think 2011, 2012. So it concerns us because they are encroaching on our exclusive economic zone,” Lorenzana told the media in Washington in response to questions why the Chinese had been aggressive in its maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana is in Washington in a meeting with US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on key defense and security issues involving the two countries.
In line with its maritime and territorial claims to almost 90 percent of the South China Sea, China has occupied seven formerly obscure maritime features in the Kalayaan Island Group that it transformed into man-made and highly militarized islands.
Recent reports claimed that since January up to the present, China has deployed more than 600 fishing boats close to Pag-asa Island in the disputed Spratlys.
Del Rosario said that even with the “full accommodations” being granted to China by the Philippine government, Beijing continues its unlawful actions on Filipino fishermen.
“Even as now, with full accommodations being granted to Beijing by our government, we continue to be faced with unlawful actions from our northern neighbor, a modern day goliath, whose intentions and activities are to force a doctrine of dominance and control on our region and beyond,” Del Rosario and Morales said in a statement.