By Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) |
MANILA, Philippines - As its sailors began water cannon drills around Ayungin Shoal, China declared yesterday its rejection of Manila’s turning to international arbitration on the West Philippine Sea dispute.
“China has stated time and again that it does not accept the Philippines’ submission of disputes with China in the South China Sea for international arbitration. This position stays unchanged,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said.
This developed as Chinese surveillance ships were reportedly conducting water cannon drills around Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, apparently in preparation for another encounter with Filipino fishermen or troops delivering supplies and provisions to a small garrison stationed on the grounded Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre.
“We have been observing them doing the (water cannon) exercises since last week,” a Marine stationed on the Sierra Madre said.
The Philippines submitted on Sunday a memorial or written argument to the UN arbitral tribunal in The Hague to buttress its case against China’s claim over almost the entire South China Sea.
Hong said China’s position on issues concerning the South China Sea is clear-cut and consistent, and that it is ready to settle any dispute with its neighbors only through bilateral talks.
“China has all along adhered to settling disputes through direct negotiations with countries concerned,” Hong said.
He said Beijing’s position is clearly stated in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) jointly signed by China and Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines. He said such an arrangement has been agreed upon between Beijing and Manila based on some bilateral documents.
“No matter how the Philippine memorial is packaged, the direct cause of the dispute between China and the Philippines is the latter’s illegal occupation of some of China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea,” Hong said.
“At the heart of the matter are the disputes between the two sides on the sovereignty over islands and reefs, and delimitation of maritime boundaries. Yet disputes such as these have already been excluded from arbitration procedures through a declaration made by China in 2006 pursuant to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” he pointed out.
China’s rejection of the Philippines’ resorting to international arbitration, Hong said, is solidly based on international law.
“China urges the Philippines to comprehensively and effectively implement the consensus repeatedly reaffirmed between the two sides and the DOC, and return to the right track of settling the disputes through bilateral negotiations,” he said.
The Philippines submitted electronically its 4,000-page memorial to the registrar of The Hague-based United Nations arbitral tribunal on Sunday.
Copies were also sent to each arbitrator – the Chinese ambassador in the Netherlands and the Chinese chargé d’affaires in Manila.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the memorial, consisting of 10 volumes, presents in detail the Philippines’ position on its dispute with China over some potentially oil and mineral rich shoals, reefs, and islets in the West Philippine Sea.
Earlier, Chinese vessels drove away Filipino fishermen with water cannon from Ayungin Shoal. Chinese maritime vessels also prevented two Filipino ships from delivering supplies to the Marine garrison on Ayungin.
The United States said it was troubled by China’s action, prompting Beijing to remind Washington of its reported commitment not to take sides on the issue.
Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said the “comments made by the US in disregard of facts are inconsistent with its non-party capacity.”
US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki and Charge d’Affaires Brian Goldbeck of the US embassy in Manila called China’s action on Ayungin Shoal “a provocative move that raises tensions.”
At Malacañang, President Aquino maintained that going to the arbitral tribunal is not an act of provocation but a peaceful way to defend the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
He also said the Chinese coast guard’s attempt to stop a Filipino civilian ship from delivering supplies to the Filipino garrison on Ayungin was deplorable.
“We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognize we have the right to defend our own interests,” Aquino said.
Asked how the Ayungin Shoal incidents would affect the country’s relations with China or Manila’s case with the arbitral tribunal, Aquino cited Article 2, Section 7 of the Constitution which states that the government “shall pursue an independent foreign policy and in its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.”
“So what are our options with regard to the whole issue of the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea? I subscribed to this oath when I assumed office. I have to defend national territory and our sovereignty,” Aquino said after the graduation rites at the Philippine National Police Academy.
“There is also a requirement (to adhere to) peaceful and rules-based (approach). We went through arbitration primarily because that is a means to resolve the dispute consistent with the policy of (employing) peaceful means, and in conformity with the international law,” the President said.
Water cannon drills
Western Command (Wescom) chief Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, meanwhile, confirmed the water cannon drills by Chinese coast guard vessels.
He said they have been monitoring the activity following the water cannon attack on Filipino fishermen on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in Zambales on Jan. 27.
The last water cannon drill was held on March 27 – the same day the military dispatched a civilian ship, the BFAR AM-700, to replenish the food supplies of soldiers guarding Ayungin Shoal.
The ship also carried Marines to replace troops stationed on the shoal for more than five months.
Military officials said two of four Chinese surveillance ships in the “hosing” operations on Panatag Shoal were involved in last Saturday’s incident in which a Filipino ship delivering supplies to Sierra Madre was able to outmaneuver the Chinese vessels.
In the incident, one of the Chinese vessels even threatened to ram the Philippine ship and cross its bow while blowing its horn.
The Chinese displayed an LED sign, ordering the Philippine vessel to leave. But the Filipino soldiers stood their ground and managed to reach BRP Sierra Madre.
“Whatever happens we will not abandon our post. We will not leave our station. The place is ours and we will guard and protect it as ordered by our superiors,” Lt. Mike Pelotera, outgoing Ayungin detachment commander, said.
The nine-man Marine contingent guarding Ayungin Shoal arrived in Barangay Macarascas in Puerto Princesa yesterday after more than 29 hours of sea travel. They were picked up from Sabina Shoal by BRP Apolinario Mabini.
Long-haired and sunburned, the soldiers, led by Pelotera, received Bronze Cross medals from Deveraturda and Naval Forces Western Command chief Commodore Manuel Natalio Abinuman. The Bronze Cross is awarded to soldiers who risk their lives in the line of duty.
Meanwhile, Vice President Jejomar Binay said yesterday that replenishing supplies for the soldiers guarding the Philippine territory is the government’s “responsibility and right.”
Binay made the statement as he reiterated his appeal to China to stop doing actions that will raise tension between the Philippine and Chinese governments.
“Despite our dispute with China, I am still confident that we can transcend this problem and remain friends within a global community based on the rule of law and mutual respect,” he said.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, for his part, said that the country can only pray that its efforts to settle its territorial dispute with China through arbitration would work, since the Asian giant has refused to recognize the process time and again. – With Aurea Calica, Jaime Laude, Jose Rodel Clapano, Michelle Zoleta, Marvin Sy