No intention to drag U.S. into Scarborough dispute — PHL

May 3, 2012 10:29 pm 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, May 3 — The Philippines does not intend to drag the United States into Manila’s territorial dispute with China on what is internationally mapped as the South China Sea, notwithstanding Manila-Washington's time-tested bilateral alliance.

This was stressed by Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario in Washington, where he addressed the conservative American think tank, The Heritage Foundation, on May 2.

He and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin are in Washington for the so-called “2+2” Ministerial Meeting with U.S. counterparts Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta.

A high-seas standoff and diplomatic tiff currently sours Manila-Beijing relations, over their conflicting claims over the Scarborough Shoal — known as “Huangyan Dao” to China and “Panatag” to the Philippines.

It was triggered by an incident on April 8, when Chinese vessels were spied upon inside the shoal’s lagoon and a newly-acquired Philippine warship soon coasted along to confiscate alleged illegal harvests of endangered marine species such as giant clams.

Not budging on their respective claim of territorial sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction, neither “golden friend” has left the area as of press time.

Del Rosario stressed that the Philippines-United States alliance “does not aim to confront or contain anyone” and that “the last thing the Philippines wants to do is heighten tensions and drag our allies into” the issue of what Philippine authorities belatedly named the “West Philippine Sea.”

A spate of talks in Manila and in Beijing for a peaceful solution to the standoff failed and Del Rosario told the press in the Philippines that “the element of trust” had not been present in those sessions.

Soon after, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) floated the idea of seeking arbitration with the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) — which has jurisdiction on issues of Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf.

But while Del Rosario was in the U.S., Beijing announced on Tuesday that ITLOS is off its negotiating track and would stick to its avowed policy of direct bilateral negotiations. Chinese press organs have also accused the Philippines of “internationalizing” the issue.

Del Rosario also wondered why “China (is) vehemently against the idea of validating its claims in accordance with international law."

DFA said “ITLOS would provide an impartial venue for ascertaining whovertly expressedo between the Philippines and China have sovereign rights over the waters around Bajo de Masinloc," the international reference and ancient name of Scarborough Shoal.

“What the Philippines is trying to do is to build a rules-based environment and create the conditions that will shape the behavior of all parties towards the peaceful resolution of disputes,” he told The Heritage Foundation.

He described the organization as one that “constantly championed the cause of a strong U.S. presence in Asia.”

Still, with no overtly-expressed third-country support for the Philippine claim, Del Rosario insisted that the West Philippine Sea issue “has far-reaching implications to the international community, in terms of respect for the freedom of navigation and commerce, and the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

“The Philippines has taken the lead and put on the table concrete and actionable proposals, and we are encouraging others to join us. We believe all countries, whether directly affected or not, have an interest and a stake in protecting these fundamental tenets of international law.

“We need to make clear investments, in the political and legal tracks, towards resolving the conflicting claims, and these modalities are direct investments towards a peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific,” he stressed. (PNA)

scs/GJB

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