“There will be a code of conduct. I will not speculate on how or rather the dimension of the agreement. It has to be worked out. So I don’t want to speculate,” the President said upon his arrival at the Davao International Airport before dawn yesterday from China. Francis Malasig/Pool Photo via AP, File

Rody expects China nod for sea code of conduct
(The Philippine Star) - May 16, 2017 - 4:00pm

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – For years an elusive target for nations with conflicting claims in the South China Sea, a code of conduct for managing the dispute is expected to be ready on May 19 when the China-led Bilateral Consultation Mechanism convenes for the first time, President Duterte said yesterday.

“There will be a code of conduct. I will not speculate on how or rather the dimension of the agreement. It has to be worked out. So I don’t want to speculate,” the President said upon his arrival at the Davao International Airport before dawn yesterday from China.

The President was in Cambodia and Hong Kong before his China visit.

The President stressed that both China and the Philippines are looking forward to a bilateral mechanism for settling the dispute over areas in the South China Sea.

The Philippines refers to the side of the disputed waters within its exclusive economic zone as West Philippine Sea.

Other claimants in the South China Sea aside from the Philippines and China are Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan. China claims almost the entire South China Sea through which 40 percent of world trade passes.

Many of the disputed areas were uninhabitable land features on which the Chinese built fortresses with airstrips and bristling with sophisticated weapons system.

“We look forward to the bilateral meeting on the South China Sea. This is one step forward in peacefully managing disputes,” the President said.

The President emphasized that the forging of deals with China amounting to billions of dollars under the latter’s One Belt One Road development strategy would not influence – much less undermine – the Philippines’ position in next week’s bilateral talks on the South China Sea issue.

He said the government does not have to take extra measures to ensure the sovereignty of the country is not compromised.

“It is not really the safety measure that you are talking about. The safety measure is that when you avoid trouble, we avoid violence and we avoid war because frankly, we cannot afford it and China cannot afford it also at this time. Masisira tayong dalawa (We’ll both lose),” the President further said.

While acknowledging there is indeed a dispute with China over territories, Duterte said he and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping had agreed there is a proper time to raise the July 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling on the issue.

The UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague invalidated China’s massive claims in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the Philippines’ maritime entitlements. Beijing, however, made it clear it would not comply with the ruling.

“There is a time for me to ask about the arbitral ruling but it is not now. We have to go into the mechanics of… We have to have an agenda, the structure of the meeting and… how to present the case to them first because we agreed to talk, to have a dialogue,” the President pointed out.

“Maybe at some future time these things will crop up. And you cannot avoid it because there is the arbitral ruling,” he added.

“In the end it would always be legal. The arbitral ruling rendered by an organ of the United Nations will always be there,” he said.

The previous Aquino administration filed a case against Beijing in 2013 with the arbitral tribunal in response to China’s escalation of island building activities in the West Philippine Sea.

The filing of the case came a year after the Chinese took control of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales after a standoff with the Philippine Navy. Chinese maritime surveillance vessels arrived in the area to rescue Chinese poachers arrested by the Philippine Navy earlier.

The poachers were allowed to leave with their illegal cargo of endangered corals, giant clams and baby sharks.

Fair and balanced

Meanwhile, President Duterte said he still has to study the suggestion of former speaker Jose de Venecia that the Philippines conduct joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea with China and Vietnam, as he stressed any deal would have to be “fair and balanced.”

De Venecia, recently named special envoy for intercultural dialogue, raised the idea at the Belt and Road Forum in China last Sunday.

He said the three countries should “discard occasional enmity and exaggerated pride” and consider conducting a three-way energy exploration in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

He expressed belief his suggestion, if adopted, could promote peace and development in the area.

Duterte said De Venecia’s proposal should be examined to ensure that the Philippines would not end up shortchanged.

“Let us see the wherewithals. Tingnan muna kung ’di ba ako malugi (Let’s see if we will not be shortchanged)? It has to be fair and it has to be balanced,” the President said. “So if we can get something there with no hassle at all, why not?”

A Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking signed by the Arroyo administration with China drew flak from various sectors, which saw the deal as tantamount to giving Beijing unbridled access to the Philippines’ maritime territory. – With Alexis Romero

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