DFA: No details yet on 'direct line' with China on West Philippine Sea

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
DFA: No details yet on 'direct line' with China on West Philippine Sea
This March 22, 2021 aerial photo shows Chinese vessels still present in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
Armed Forces of the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and China have agreed to establish a "direct communication line" on issues related to the West Philippine Sea but the two sides are still in talks about specific guidelines, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday.

The agreement provides the establishment of a communication mechanism on maritime issues, which is expected to "avoid miscalculation and miscommunication" in the tense waters within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

In a press briefing on Thursday, the DFA said the direct line is "an addition to and complements" already existing diplomatic channels for communication over maritime issues. 

"As with other bilateral arrangements, internal procedures have to be put in place to make the communication mechanism operational and this is being discussed with the Chinese counterparts," said Ambassador Ma. Teresita Daza, spokesperson of the DFA.

Daza explained that the "communication mechanism" is an implementation of the Philippine-China 2017 memorandum of understanding that sought to improve communication and coordination on major issues between the two countries.

READ: Pacts signed with China just ‘continuation’ of past agreements, analysts say

While awaiting guidelines for the communication mechanism, issues and other incidents will be coursed through existing diplomatic channels. 

With the recent Ayungin Shoal incident, for example, the DFA said it is waiting for official reports on the incident where a Chinese Coast Guard vessel drove away a Filipino fishing boat while in the area on January 9, just days after President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.’s state visit to China. 

"There is a process that needs to be followed and this process includes the DFA actually receiving official reports from not just one agency but several agencies and based on these official reports," Daza said. 

"It not just verifies the incident but also makes an assessment and with the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, some decisions will be made in terms of the action that will be taken."

RELATED: After fresh incident with China Coast Guard, DFA asserts Ayungin part of Philippines

The DFA assured the public that it is taking action over reports concerning the country’s sovereignty. However, some processes – such as fact finding, verification, and the assessment of reports – may take time. 

Since the 2016 Hague ruling, the Philippines has lodged over 200 notes verbale and diplomatic protests. In 2022 alone, 195 were filed, while as of January 26 this year, already four has been lodged.

"I also want to underscore that the protests sent out is a legal document and we have to make sure that the legal document, any detail that’s mentioned in the legal document has been verified," Daza said.

READ: 'Indisputable’: Philippines commemorates 6th anniversary of Hague ruling

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