Talks with China over sea row urged

MANILA - The Philippines should engage China in bi­lateral talks in its efforts to maintain peace and order at the disputed West Philippine Sea, Sen. Francis Escudero said recently.


Escudero supports the gov­ernment’s move to bring the issue before international arbitration but also stressed the need for the Philippines to pursue talks with China.


Escudero made the state­ment after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a peaceful solution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.


“We should also pursue bilateral talks with China to settle the dispute, maybe we could also pursue back chan­neling talks with them. We should use all means, mul­tilateral, regional or bilateral level, to settle the dispute,” he said.


The heightened regional concern over the disputed waters came after China warned a US surveillance plane to keep out of the area. The US government said it was asserting freedom of navigation and aviation when it undertook the sur­veillance mission.


Escudero expressed con­cern that the Philippines might get caught in a cross­fire between the US and Chi­na if ever a conflict arises.


However, he was optimis­tic that China and US will be able to settle the issue peace­fully.


Escudero lamented the Phil­ippines cannot match China in military terms.


He also cautioned the De­partment of National De­fense against using the issue to beef up its resources by asking additional budget for the Armed Forces’ moderni­zation program.


“They should stop saber-rattling so that they can get more budget because in the end, we may not even have enough resources to match China’s might in an actual war,” he said in Filipino.


Muntinlupa City Rep. Ro­dolfo Biazon Jr., for his part, called for ways to tighten security agreements between the Philippines and the Unit­ed States to ensure a clear commitment that the US will come to the country’s aid in the event the territorial dis­pute with China in the West Philippine Sea erupts into a conflict.


Biazon, chairman of the House committee on na­tional defense and security, said he was disturbed by statements coming from top officials, including Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang, that the country cannot rely on the US for help in case the situation escalates in the disputed wa­ters.


He said the country and the US have the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the 1999 Visiting Forces Agree­ment (VFA), and the En­hanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that en­tered into force in April last year but they apparently do not specify courses of action to take.


“It appears that the US will help us but up to what extent will that alliance go? Is this assistance for our diplomatic efforts or if the situation comes to force on force, will they help us? I’m bothered by such statements. Can we lean on the MDT? If not, why are we talking to the Americans?” Biazon told dzBB over the weekend.


“I know the MDT is there, the VFA and now the EDCA – we must study these. How can EDCA help us? The EDCA speaks about basing, the question is, whose bas­es?” he asked.


“Tensions in the South Chi­na Sea have increased but where that will lead, no one can predict. To avoid con­flict, more nations should call for a peaceful resolu­tion and we have been mak­ing protests on what China’s been doing,” he said.


Biazon said the Constitu­tion bans foreign bases but the prohibition is not ab­solute as long as there is a basing treaty ratified by the Senate.


He welcomed the state­ments of condemnation coming from the US, Japan, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and other countries on China’s construction of military in­stallations in the disputed waters even as they called on other nations “to wake up the world to resolve the dis­pute under the rule of law.”


When US President Barack Obama visited Manila in April 28 last year, he said his government supports the country’s bid to peacefully resolve its dispute against China.


“We don’t even take a spe­cific position on the disputes between nations. But, as a matter of international law and international norms, we don’t think that coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes,” Obama said.


(By Christina Mendez, The Philippine Star, With Paolo Romero; abs-cbn news)


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