No anti-China policy

MANILA, Philippines - The Aquino administration has no anti-China policy despite a call by one of its political allies for a boycott of Chinese-made products in response to Beijing's muscle flexing in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said yesterday.

"That is his belief in that particular matter but that is not an administration policy," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said, referring to Albay Gov. Joey Salceda.

"Our position is that we prefer a peaceful settlement in this matter," Lacierda said in a press briefing at Malacañang.

He maintained that the Aquino administration prefers a multilateral approach to addressing the problem of China's intrusions into Philippine territory, particularly in the Spratly Islands.

"We respect his (Salceda's) opinion. We have a healthy trade with the People's Republic of China so it's not something that we could immediately call for without (thinking about the) consequences on our part," Lacierda said. "Anyone can do as he pleases but as far as policy is concerned, it is not our policy to boycott Chinese products."

Lacierda stressed that "we are going for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the West Philippine Sea."

"I think we have an investment in the trade between China and the Philippines and it"s not something that we can (disregard)," he said.

"Yes, we've seen a surge of nationalism... but we have to temper our comments," Lacierda said.

"(There is) no form of xenophobia in our country. Most of us have Chinese blood one way or another," he said.

"I can say this for myself... we're looking at this issue from the Filipino perspective," he said. "Suffice it to say that there's an open line of communications between the two parties."

Multilateral approach

Lacierda said the Philippines would beef up its capability to protect its territorial waters but reiterated its preference for a multilateral settlement of the dispute in the West Philippine Sea. He also said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should play an active role in resolving the disputes.

"The administration has also always called for a peaceful, multilateral settlement with regard to contested claims in the West Philippine Sea, along the lines of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and applicable international laws, notably the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)," he said.

"Concerning our defense posture, the administration is determined to improve the capabilities of our military and Coast Guard to enable the effective patrol and protection of our national territory and exclusive economic zone," Lacierda said.

But he stressed improving the country's defense capabilities in the disputed areas would also be for environmental protection.

"I think the patrolling of our areas in the West Philippine Sea is continuous, especially for protecting what we consider as ours. So that is not something surprising," Lacierda said.

Since 1935, Lacierda said all Philippine administrations have abided by a constitutional provision on following international law in settling international claims and disputes.

But he stressed there are areas in the West Philippine Sea that are indisputably part of the Philippines, such as the Recto (Reed) Bank.

"The Philippine government has been clear and consistent with respect to its position on our national territory. The administration has always asserted that it will dismiss out of hand any claim to what are considered integral parts of Philippine territory, such as the Recto Bank in western Palawan," Lacierda said.


He stressed that the administration is confident of a favorable outcome of the crisis and revealed an assurance from China of its adherence to a peaceful approach to addressing the issue.

"We would like to emphasize right now that we're very, very confident and hopeful that a peaceful resolution will be achieved on this matter. We were able to speak with the Chinese ambassador (Liu Jianchao Sunday during Independence Day celebrations in Malacañang) and while he also reiterated China's position to the President, he also mentioned to me that they have the same position calling for a peaceful resolution in the West Philippine Sea," Lacierda said.

He said the possibility of the Philippines seeking US help in the event of armed confrontation with China was only brought up in the context of the 1950s Mutual Defense Treaty.

"So we believe that, at this point, it's speculative to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty for the conflict in the West Philippine Sea," Lacierda said.

Lacierda said it would be up to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to pursue a collective ASEAN position on the matter vis-à-vis China's position that the dispute must be dealt with bilaterally.

He said DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario has suggested setting a zone for peace. Lacierda said Del Rosario raised the issue during the last ASEAN meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.

West Philippine Sea

Lacierda also explained that the dropping of the term South China Sea in favor of West Philippine Sea is not a national policy but is done only for the sake of consistency.

"Like I said, we're taking our cue from the Department of Foreign Affairs. They have consistently used West Philippine Sea and the Department of National Defense has also been using West Philippine Sea. So it is incumbent on us to just follow, take the cue from them and to refer to South China Sea as West Philippine Sea," he said.

"In any event, all the other nations would call the South China Sea based on how they perceive... they call them on their own terms as well. Vietnam calls it East Sea so it's but natural for us to call it West Philippine Sea," Lacierda said.

"I have to beg your indulgence whether a law should be required but as far as how we are referring to South China Sea as West Philippine Sea, we would be adopting the position taken by the Department of Foreign Affairs," he said.

Clinton's invitation

As the war of words between the Philippines and China escalated, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has invited Del Rosario to Washington to discuss the West Philippine Sea imbroglio and other issues.

Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia said Del Rosario will be in Washington from June 20 to 24 at Clinton's invitation, which she extended last month when the Philippine-China dispute over disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea began boiling over.

He said when the Secretary of State called Del Rosario in March to congratulate him on his appointment as foreign secretary, they agreed to meet and "Clinton followed that up with this invitation."

Asked if the May invitation to Del Rosario was a US signal to China, Cuisia noted Clinton had denounced China's heavy-handed, unilateral tactics at an ASEAN meeting in Hanoi in July and declared the US had a national interest in seeing territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea resolved through a "collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants."

Del Rosario was the Philippine ambassador to the US for five years in the early 2000s and knows the leading politicians in Washington and is on a first name basis with many of them.

In a message to the Philippines on its Independence Day anniversary, Clinton said both countries were long-standing friends and partners.

"Whether we are working to find ways to catalyze economic growth, helping victims of natural disasters, combating extremism, or calling for greater protection of human rights, our two countries share a vision of a better world," Clinton said.

Meanwhile, Philippine Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said three US Navy warships are en route for the June 28-July 8 naval exercise called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) in the Sulu Sea. The last CARAT naval exercise was last held in October 2010.

Aside from the USS Chung-Hoon, an Arliegh Burke Class guided missile destroyer, another guided missile destroyer, the USS Howard, and a salvage and rescue ship the USS Safeguard will take part in the joint naval maneuver.

"From what I know, Chung-Hoon is already in the West Philippine Sea but it has yet to enter our territorial waters," Tonsay said. He also said the coming naval exercise has nothing to do with the heightened tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

Don't count on MDT

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, for his part, said that based on the MDT, the US cannot be counted upon to help the Philippines in case of a shooting war with China.

Enrile told reporters that the US is compelled to assist the Philippines under MDT only if and when it is attacked in the areas covered by the treaty.

"Any attack against forces of either the US or the Philippines in the treaty area will mean an attack against the party to the Mutual Defense Treaty, so we can invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty under those circumstances," Enrile said.

"If it is a naval vessel of the Philippines that's attacked then you can invoke it. But for one country occupying any portion of the islands or islets or quays or whatever or the so-called Spratlys, then that will be a problem," Enrile said.

Not even the alleged intrusions of Chinese fighter jets and naval vessels into Philippine territories can be used to compel the American forces to come to the aid of the Philippines.

"We can invoke the Law of the Sea to the United Nations if they will violate the EEZ, exclusive economic zone because there's a treaty among nations," he added.

Enrile said the Philippine government may also invoke the MDT if nations such as China move to exploit the resources in Philippine territories covered by the treaty.

"If they're going to explore, if they are going to exploit, if they are going to gather any valuable materials in the area, harvest these in the area, then we can invoke. Now if they just pass through, when they do so-called innocent passes, they should please notify us," he said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the issue of whether or not the US would come to aid the Philippines is fruitless.

"Imploring US providence in the past didn't bring us into the proverbial promised land. We aren't in a shooting war and so we can very well take care of ourselves," Pangilinan said. "Our chances of winning in a shooting war may be bleak but we will definitely not allow anyone to defeat us in a word war."

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., meanwhile, asked President Aquino to attend to more pressing needs of the country and leave the squabble over the Spratly Islands to the DFA.

"There is also urgency in economic matters, especially those concerning the immediate need of millions to place food on their plates on a daily basis," Marcos said.

"Macho posturing with China and speculation on whether the Americans will come to our rescue or not is a waste of Malacañang time. The Americans will react on a dollar and cents calculation as they often do in peace and in war," Marcos said.

Still, boycott

Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco joined Salceda in calling for a boycott of goods from China.

"What do we do? The first very practical strategy or practical pressure is what Joey Salceda said, boycott because that's the only voice we can have," Haresco said at the weekly Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel media forum.

"Because we don't have the $2 million to pay for an aggressive communications plan with the United Nations which is what a First World country requires if we are to elevate the case of the Philippines before international fora," he said.

"Right now, we are just playing with a disposable public income of seven percent and that's better spent for education, hospitals, and other requirements like extra ammunition and extra equipment," he said.

Meanwhile, Salceda stood firm in his call. "National honor has no price tag. I love the Philippines and am ready to defend its territory," he said. With Jose Katigbak, Jaime Laude, Marvin Sy, Helen Flores, Celso Amo


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