(The Philippine Star) | Updated May 25, 2015
MANILA, Philippines – 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 yesterday.
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 on Friday 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 last week. 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. –With Paolo Romero