Noy: China violating informal sea code

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - May 20, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino is still counting on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to deal with China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea.

Aquino said Beijing is violating the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) that it has been working on with ASEAN since 2002 by reclaiming and constructing facilities on Mabini Reef.

The Philippines has been pushing for a legally binding code of conduct (COC) as a progression from the non-binding DOC through ASEAN to maintain the status quo and stability in the disputed areas.

It believes the issue must be settled multilaterally and not bilaterally between China and each and every nation that has a territorial dispute with it.

“In my belief, what was done in Mischief Reef before and what is being done now, everything is seemingly in violation of what was agreed upon in the DOC. The problem with the declaration is it is not binding,” Aquino told reporters yesterday after addressing the United Nations World Tourism Organization ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change in Legazpi City.

Asked if he would discuss the issue with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who would be in the country for a visit and to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia this week, Aquino said details were still being finalized but that they had tackled the matter informally in Naypyidaw, Myanmar where they both attended the ASEAN summit on May 10 to 11.

“We are in the same situation, we are trying to push for ASEAN centrality; we have called on our brother-nations in ASEAN that this is what’s happening and we are asking what we should do collectively because ASEAN must be united and everyone in the group must agree,” Aquino said.

Aquino said there must be a code of conduct that is operational and enforceable to resolve the dispute and eliminate the potential for disputed areas to become flashpoints.

He said the Philippines had been pushing for the early adoption of a COC, especially in Cambodia in 2012 when foreign ministers failed for the first time to come up with a joint statement because of differences on what text should be included and excluded as regards the territorial and maritime dispute with China.

Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are among those with overlapping claims over areas in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, which China maintains is part of its territory.

The negotiations on COC between ASEAN and China started as early as 2002 to govern the behavior in the South China Sea and manage the disputes.

“There was no agreement on the code of conduct; the result was the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. This is the so-called DOC,” Aquino said.

He cited a provision in the DOC stating that the parties must exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, “refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

“So there is a provision and apparent discussion that you should not introduce new facilities…that there will be no changes until the territorial disputes are resolved,” Aquino said.

The military, on the other hand, is monitoring the tense developments between Vietnam and China over the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the prevailing maritime row between Vietnam and China is pushing the Armed Forces to hasten its maritime domain awareness monitoring over its regime of islands in the West Philippine Sea because of the presence of Vietnamese and Chinese troops in the region.

China has been maintaining forward naval units on six reefs in the area, while Vietnam also stations troops on 23 islets and shoals.

The Philippines’ regime of islands in the region is also being guarded and secured by Marines.

Zagala said the AFP is coordinating with local and foreign government agencies over security development in the Paracels as well as on the ongoing reclamation project by Beijing at Mabini Reef.

Mabini Reef, around 150 to 190 nautical miles from mainland Palawan, was formerly occupied by Vietmanese troops until they were dislodged by Chinese naval forces that left 64 Vietnamese soldiers dead and the sinking of their two navy transport ships in 1988.

Be a good neighbor

Pangasinan Rep. Gina de Venecia led women lawmakers in appealing to China and the Philippines to practice the “Good Neighbor Policy” to ease tensions.

Leading a 12-member Philippine congressional delegation representing the 79-member multi-party All-Women Congressional Caucus, De Venecia made the appeal but cut short her visit to fly back to Manila to attend to her dying mother.

Azucena Vera-Perez, age 97, founder of Sampaguita Pictures, passed away an hour before De Venecia arrived and was buried yesterday.

The delegation was in China last week on what De Venecia described as “a delicate inter-parliamentary, inter-party and people-to-people mission.”

They proceeded to Beijing from May 16 to 17 for further meetings with the International Department of the Communist Party of China led by Chinese Vice-Minister Chen Fengxiang of the International Department, and with large women’s organizations in the Chinese capital before returning to Manila on Saturday.

De Venecia praised the vigorous anti-corruption reforms of Chinese President Xi Jin Ping and President Aquino.

She also asked for the revival of the three-nation Philippine-China-Vietnam Seismic Survey in the disputed areas of the Spratlys, approved by the three governments in 2005 as a prelude to joint exploration, joint drilling and joint development for oil and gas, and equitable sharing of hydro-carbons production and profits.

Her husband, then Speaker Jose de Venecia, initiated the program as the “most practical, the most commonsensical and the most realistic solution” to the conflict amid the dangerous confrontations in the South China Sea.

Rep. De Venecia also proposed the designation of “fishing corridors” and alternating periods for fishing fleets coming from what she called the three frontline states of the Philippines, China and Vietnam to avoid further tensions, confrontation and arrest of fishermen in the sea.

China has demanded the immediate release of the nine fishermen caught poaching off Half Moon Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands.

The Philippines, however, insisted the Chinese fishermen violated maritime laws and they must be prosecuted.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said prosecutors have found probable cause to indict the alleged poachers in court.

“The case will proceed. We have them in custody so the appropriate legal proceedings need to continue,” De Lima said. – Paolo Romero, Jaime Laude, Edu Punay


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