DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The Philippines and Japan have agreed to work closely to advance a “rules-based” regime to maintain stability and security in the region amid sea disputes, President Duterte disclosed Thursday night.
As this developed, Malacañang said yesterday the Chinese Coast Guard left Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal days after the President told Filipino fishermen to wait a few days before they could enter the country’s traditional fishing ground again.
In a speech upon his arrival from Japan after a three-day official visit, the President said the two countries’ push for a peaceful settlement of the territorial disputes in the region, including the row over the South China Sea was based on their shared “values of democracy, adherence to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes.”
“Everyone in our region and beyond has a stake in the South China Sea. Both governments committed to ensure the freedom of navigation and overflight in these waters. We have bilateral and multilateral venues at our disposal to ensure that commitments and responsibilities are complied with under international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Duterte said on Thursday night at the Davao International Airport.
The President said his trip was productive as he discussed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe various areas of economic, socio-political security and defense cooperation and agreed to “take things to a higher level.”
“In security and defense cooperation, we recognized the importance of vibrant political and defense exchanges as we seek to build a stable and secure environment in our region. In this regard, enhancing capabilities in maritime security and maritime domain awareness is a key priority. Japan will play a vital role in modernizing the Philippines’ capacities as a nation with maritime interests to protect,” Duterte said.
In Japan, the President told Japanese businessmen he did not discuss any military alliance with China but purely economics when he visited Beijing.
The Philippines is embroiled in a maritime and territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea while Japan and China are locked in a similar row in the East China Sea.
Duterte did not mention anything about the arbitral ruling that the Philippines won in July but earlier reports quoted him as saying he would raise this with China at the proper time.
“The acquisition of our maritime and air capability assets is crucial in addressing traditional and emerging threats to our nations, including piracy, criminality at sea and terrorism, as well as in responding to disasters,” Duterte said.
During his visit to Japan, Duterte also said he was open to the conduct of joint military exercises with Japan as well as joint patrols in the Philippine-controlled waters.
This came after his announcement that there would no longer be any more joint military exercises between the Philippines and the United States.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Filipino fishermen could now go into Panatag Shoal, which China occupied in 2012, prompting the Philippines to seek arbitration.
But Abella clarified nothing was formalized or put on paper yet with regard to fishing at the shoal despite observations that the Chinese Coast Guard had left.
Abella refused to say whether the “observation” was reported by the Philippine Coast Guard or the military. “Just say it’s been observed,” Abella said.
Duterte said he raised the issue about Panatag Shoal in his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping while in Beijing but did not disclose details.
The group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) also said that since Tuesday, Filipinos from Zambales and Pangasinan had been fishing freely in the area.
Pamalakaya said the Filipino fishermen used to be harassed and chased by the Chinese Coast Guard.
“It is an initial victory for the Filipino fishermen who have consistently aired their collective voices to assert their rights to the West Philippine Sea. Without the unity of the fisherfolk and other patriotic sectors and alliance who took to the streets and engaged with government officials, we may not be able to take our territory back,” Pamalakaya chair Fernando Hicap said. – Giovanni Nilles, Ding Cervantes, Marvin Sy