PHL should turn to Western, Asian allies on Panatag dispute – Sen. Santiago

July 12, 2012 9:57 pm 

By Jelly F. Musico

MANILA, July 12 – With China refusing to bring the West Philippine Sea dispute to international tribunals, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said the best option for the Philippines is to turn to its Western allies and neighbors in Asia, particularly the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

”We have to turn both to our western allies who have strategic interest in our region and to our ASEAN members,” Santiago said in a media forum in the Senate on Thursday.

Santiago, an international law expert, called the strategy as "power politics" using alliance with the United States which has Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines and even with Australia which has a pending VFA in the Senate.

“What is left is power politics. That is all we’ve got. We cannot engage in a massive arms build-up. We just don’t have the money for it and China’s just too big and too rich for us to ever be able to hope to catch up with it,” the lady senator said.

Santiago opposed the visiting forces agreement with Australia but said that if Australia, just like other countries where the Philippines has VFAs, would commit to help the Philippines if victimized by the use of force, “I would be willing to rethink my position on Australian VFA.”

Santiago said the country’s Western allies have strategic interests in the West Philippine Sea because half of the ships that criss-cross the globe pass through the ceilings of the South China Sea, not to mention the hidden natural resources below the sea.

”We have to use our wits. If you are lacking in physical attributes, use your brain. To put it bluntly, you have to show the U.S., Australia, South Korea and Singapore to protect South China Sea from incursions of China because it will be to their interest to protect the South China,” Santiago explained.

”You don’t want to give China power over an area of maritime territory that represents 10 percent of the fisheries catch of the entire world. You don’t want to give China a territory where half of the world’s tonnage passes on its sea lanes. You don’t want to give that to China,” she added.

Santiago said the Philippines cannot expect China to agree to bring the disputed Panatag Shoal to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) because “it made reservation when it ratified the treaty.”

”China made a reservation that it would not accept compulsory procedures for the settlement of territorial or maritime disputes. We can go to the International Court of Justice but China has already said it will not agree to the ICJ jurisdiction,” she explained.

The senator suggested that government should prioritize the maintenance of coast guard capabilities for monitoring of the Philippine sea instead of acquiring equipment for the Navy.

”No matter how much military equipment we buy, we can never outfight China. They are just more technologically sophisticated and their economy is simply surging. It’s just we are just mosquitoes, China is dragon,” she said.

Santiago believes that China will not use its full power since launching an armed attack would violate the 1951 treaty and the U.S. will come to help the Philippines. (PNA) scs/jfm

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