Noy: China reneged on Scarborough deal

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - China reneged on a United States-brokered agreement to resolve the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal standoff in 2012, President Aquino bared on Thursday.

Aquino issued the statement amid criticism that the country lost Panatag to the Chinese under his watch.

He maintained that despite Chinese activities at Panatag, the Philippines stood on high moral ground to avoid armed conflict and exhausted all means to fight for the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The standoff started when the Philippine Navy flagship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was sent to the eastern coast to monitor North Korea’s missile launch. 

“On the way there, approaching Scarborough or Bajo de Masinloc, they noticed eight fishing vessels, and as part of our anti-poaching activities within our 200-mile economic zone, our ship accosted these eight ships and found that two of them were engaged in fishing in our waters and they were fishing... (for) species that are covered by another treaty called CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). These are corals, baby sharks, giant clams,” Aquino said.

“So a standoff occurred. We replaced the Navy ship with a vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to protect our interest and our rights,” he said.

“How was the standoff resolved? America brokered and there was an agreement for all parties to depart the shoal and finish (the standoff). There was this concept of ‘saving face’ by everybody,” Aquino told reporters after the launching of the Balog-Balog Multi-Purpose Project at the National Irrigation Administration-Camp Facilities Site in Barangay Sula, San Jose, Tarlac.

The President did not elaborate on the agreement, but sources said at the time that Chinese and Philippine vessels, with the help of the US, would simultaneously leave the shoal and continue to resolve the dispute through diplomatic and peaceful means.

China, however, did not fulfill its commitment.

“Now, their continued presence is something that we have continuously objected to, especially after we filed (the arbitration case against China),” Aquino said.

He noted that since the Philippines and China are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), it would be easy to point out the difference between their behavior in disputed and non-disputed areas.

“We are religiously adhering to the DOC, which is the only agreement entered into that is supposed to be principles but binding on all of the signatories,” the President added.

Aquino also maintained that the Philippines did not lose Panatag Shoal after the incident and he would like to see what treason charges some people were talking about with regard to his actions.

“What should we have done there? Engage in hostilities? If we engage in hostilities there, can we win? Obviously not. But even in that aspect, are we endangering lives unnecessarily?” he added. 

Aquino also noted the Philippines demonstrated complete adherence to international law and all the agreements that the country entered into.

“We have been scrupulously observing the same. And maybe it underpins that we all believe that the great equalizer among nations, big and small, are these international laws that should be binding on everybody,” he said.

Aquino noted that the DOC stated that “the parties undertake to 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.” 

“I think this particular section speaks for itself, actions of the Philippines versus the actions of China, especially at the uninhabited islands and the reclamation. It’s our opinion, both in the spirit and the letter of this agreement, that all countries adopted freely... We want to really highlight the contrast between China’s actions and our own,” he added.

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