‘Philippines not giving up territory to China’

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
âPhilippines not giving up territory to Chinaâ

Alan Peter Cayetano, the Philippine foreign secretary, gave the assurance in a press briefing yesterday, saying any agreement would be in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the Philippines. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP, File

MANILA, Philippines -  The Philippines will not lose even a “single inch” of territory to China if ever it proceeds with its joint exploration deal with the Asian giant, which is claiming almost the entire South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano gave the assurance in a press briefing yesterday, saying any agreement would be in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the Philippines.

Cayetano said China has been consistent in its position on joint exploration since 1986 and that it is the Philippines which has been vacillating.

“It’s we who can’t make up our mind because of the different administrations and because our Constitution at that time was new,” he said.

As he had discussed with President Duterte, Cayetano said future deals should be more beneficial to the Philippines than the agreement on Malampaya development.

“I pointed to Malampaya so despite the constitutional provision that only Filipinos should benefit, there was a joint venture for Malampaya and this was approved by the Supreme Court,” Cayetano said without elaborating.

He said a joint venture is complicated as it has to be commercially and economically viable and the standard industry sharing has to be in conformity with the Constitution.

“Will we get there? We sincerely hope so. That’s one of my mandates. That’s an order from the President,” he said.

In an event on Tuesday hosted by Manila for visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi,  Cayetano cited the Malampaya project as a model for joint exploration and development projects with foreign entities.

Wang called joint development “full of political wisdom” that could be applied in the South China Sea.

Cayetano noted that talks on joint development with China began in 1986 between then president Corazon Aquino and then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

Wang warned unilateral development “might lead to tensions.”

Consult ASEAN

 Cayetano also said Manila would consult its nine fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members about the joint development proposal.

“It will not be a unilateral action from the Philippines because the premise of the President is peace and stability, and unilateral action by anybody leads to destabilization,” he told reporters.

“There will also have to be consultations with the whole ASEAN because we  want to keep the stability there.”

Duterte has played down his country’s maritime dispute with China in favor of billions of dollars in trade and investment from Beijing.

He has also refused to use as leverage a UN-backed tribunal’s ruling last year which rejected Beijing’s claims to most of the sea.

The previous Aquino administration had sought the ruling and in 2015 suspended

Philippine exploration activities at Recto (Reed) Bank, where Manila’s claims overlap those of Beijing’s.

Under Aquino the Philippines had forcefully challenged China through legal and diplomatic avenues, including ASEAN events.

Aquino rallied ASEAN to put up a united front against Beijing’s reclamation and island-building activities in the sea – a policy that Duterte reversed.

At an April summit, ASEAN under Duterte’s chairmanship released a statement  that failed to condemn China’s push to control most of the sea.

The South China Sea will be on the agenda as Cayetano meets his ASEAN counterparts in Manila next week.

Cayetano refused to say if the joint Philippines-China oil and gas  exploration would be in specific areas of the sea also claimed by ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Taiwan, not an ASEAN member, also claims parts of the area believed to sit atop vast oil and gas reserves.

Negotiations for a joint exploration had “peaked” during Duterte’s visit to Beijing in May, when he told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he intended to drill for oil in the South China Sea, according to Cayetano. 

US scored

The DFA chief also assailed the United States for making it appear it was totally supporting the Philippines’ position on the maritime dispute.

“Do not pretend that you’re protecting the Philippines. You’re protecting your interest,” he said.

He said it was not always the case of the Philippines against China with the US on Manila’s side.

According to Cayetano, the US protested before the United Nations the Philippines’ claim to the boundary of internal waters of Palawan.

“In the four features of Palawan that is more than 200 nautical miles from Palawan the US is the one who is protesting with the UN that that’s not ours,” Cayetano said.

“So the difference between China is it’s theirs and the US is it’s international. There’s no difference to us because both of them are saying it’s not ours,” he said.

The US, he added, supports the Philippines in areas of freedom of navigation but protested the Phiilippines’ claim to certain territories drawn under the Treaty of Paris.

Under the 1898 Treaty of Paris between Spain and the US, Spain ceded the Philippines to the US for $20,000,000.

“So in some areas like freedom of navigation the US is supporting our stand but in some areas for example the Treaty of Paris we got our territory from, when we registered that in the United Nations it’s the US who protested and said that those lines are not boundary of internal waters and the Philippines can’t claim that as internal water,” he added.

He said that the Philippines does not blame the US for its stance because it is its policy.

The boundary of internal water protested by the US, he said, is definitely part of the Philippines’ internal water.

Cayetano said the US speaks very firmly on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but Washington should not interfere in the Philippines’ strategy in the West Philippine Sea because the US is not even a signatory to UNCLOS .

He cited a remark by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright during a forum in Manila last week that the US lost out because it did not sign the UNCLOS.

The secretary also emphasized that the US should not be involved in the Philippines’ strategy because it could not even give the Philippines the same assurance of defense assistance that it gave to Japan.

“So they can’t keep telling us what to do as far as our strategy is concerned when sila mismo hindi signatory and sila mismo na treaty ally natin is not ready to give us the same guarantees that they are giving to Japan,” Cayetano said.

While he emphasized the Philippines respects the US stance and the relations between the two countries remain strong, Cayetano said the Philippines is in the process of clarifying common interest.

The Philippines, he stressed, shares values of freedom and democracy with other countries.

“That’s the point of the independent foreign policy. In areas where we share common interests, we’re together. But in areas where our interests clash, don’t expect us just to say yes,” Cayetano said.

“We have to start defining very clearly what our interests are and who will help us in that interest.” – AFP

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