PNoy: No need to remove blocks in Scarborough
Urges China to abide by ITLOS ruling
MANILA (UPDATE) - President Aquino reiterated that Scarborough Shoal is part of Philippine territory but sees no need to remove concrete blocks there allegedly belonging to China.
China has reportedly denied owning the blocks.
“We are not allowed to go to Scarborough Shoal seems to be an oxymoron… It is ours, and there's no rule that says we can’t go there,” Aquino said in a forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).
Aquino said that the concrete blocks are “very, very old,” have barnacles, but pose no to threat to passing vessels.
“So they don't seem to give us any reason to have an increase in anxiety. They pose a threat to navigation or to safe navigation? At the present time, I have not had information that they do so. So they don't present an immediate danger to any of our vessels or even those that would transit in the area around the Scarborough Shoal. The concrete blocks, I understand, they are within the shoal or the lagoon within the shoal,” he said.
“If they do not present a danger to shipping or to any ships transiting the area, then there might not be a need to remove these concrete blocks at this time,” he added.
He said the Philippines has not lost the Shoal to China as Filipino fishermen can still fish in the area.
CODE OF CONDUCT
Aquino stressed the need for a binding code of conduct to govern the actions of claimant countries over the South China Sea.
He expressed elation that China has agreed to start discussions with ASEAN nations on the crafting of the COC.
“I think we should be elated that finally there has been the start of discussions, perhaps, not on the formal portion of negotiating items within the COC but we are discussing already the formulation of the COC,” he said.
“We are starting to sit down and everybody has to show that image of cooperating in crafting the COC, which will undoubtedly ease the tensions in the sea by many names.”
He said that the “status quo” should be observed, citing the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) which says that no new installations be installed in the contested seas.
The DOC, however, is not legally binding.
“If we are all saying that we abide by the DOC, then the status quo should be maintained,” he said.
He urged China to abide by the ruling of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) where the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China to settle conflicting territorial claims.
“I’m saying that there is a legally-binding document and if you say that you adhere to international law then you should be abide by the decision as we will abide by the decision,” he said.
Aquino said the maritime dispute is “not the sum total” of Philippine-China relationship, citing progress in other aspects of the relations such as trade and tourism.
He expressed appreciation of the gesture of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang who engaged him a dialogue at the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Brunei this month.
There is no change however in the respective positions of the two countries.
“I greeted him, first time I met him, I just was paying the proper courtesies and he took it upon himself, in fairness to him, to initiate a bit of a dialogue. And we’d like to acknowledge that was a very nice move on his part. We started talking but at the end of the day, we still maintain both our positions. But at least, we’re talking,” he said.
Meantime, Aquino said any commercial deal on oil exploration in Reed Bank should conform with Philippine laws.
“Well, number one, that it conforms to our laws… The area that the Forum Energy is exploring is clearly within our EEZ and therefore, any exploitation of the same has to be in conformity with our laws. As to the actual details of the contracts between them, then that will be a matter between the two entities. But at the end of the day, it has to subscribe to our own laws,” he said.