Philippines to push toned-down sea conflict resolution

Marc Jayson Cayabyab – The Philippine Star

November 24, 2023 | 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — There is no mention of the West Philippine Sea issue in the resolutions being pushed by the Philippines for peaceful settlement of disputes in the Asia-Pacific region, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday at the start of the 31st annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF).

Zubiri and Speaker Martin Romualdez held a joint press conference after leading morning executive committee meetings with the 273 delegates from 18 countries that confirmed attendance in the APPF, held at the Philippine International Convention Center.

Zubiri earlier said the Philippines has to tone down its language in defending the country’s sovereignty against Chinese provocations in the West Philippine Sea, especially with members of China’s National People’s Congress in attendance in the APPF.

“We’re happy that the delegation has come to the Philippines. They could choose not to come, but they came. Therefore, we should accept them with open arms, and we should discuss with them, like senior and seasoned parliamentarians on how we can resolve the issue once and for all,” Zubiri said.

At yesterday’s AAPF opening, Zubiri shook hands with China’s head of delegation, Wang Ke, who is vice chair of Chinese congress’ foreign affairs committee.

“We might have differences of opinion with China, but that still does not preclude from adhering to our beliefs. It’s a work in progress,” Romualdez said for his part.

He said members of parliament in the APFF “subscribe to the rules-based international order,” despite their disputes.

“There’s also a saying, we should learn how to disagree, but to not to be disagreeable with one another but always working towards a consensus. We are going there,” Romualdez said.

Among the 37 draft resolutions filed by different member countries for plenary debates, Zubiri said the Philippines is sponsoring one on “strengthening the capacity of parliaments to promote regional peace and stability,” wherein it also “urge(s) the member parliament to support… the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes.”

The Manila declaration “encourages states to make full use of the provisions and procedures provided in Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations, and affirms that recourse to judicial settlement of disputes should not be considered an unfriendly act between states,” read the draft resolution.

In its sponsored resolution, Zubiri said the Philippines avoided mentioning its maritime entitlements or even the 2016 arbitral award that invalidated China’s sea claims, so as not to antagonize other member-countries, particularly China, which is claiming almost the entire strategic waterway.

“What we want of course is peace and stability in the region and to promote growth and prosperity for all. That is why we cannot mention our specific problems on the West Philippine Sea because we want this resolution to be acceptable to all,” Zubiri said.

“If we include the West Philippine Sea issue on the resolution, other countries might oppose it, and we will not get a consensus,” he added.

The Philippine resolution also seeks to promote consultation among the member states to continue negotiating for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, Zubiri added.

President Marcos earlier announced a plan to approach Malaysia and Vietnam – or other neighbors with overlapping claims in the South China Sea – for a separate code of conduct while a broader regional pact between ASEAN and China remains under negotiations.

Zubiri also cited a resolution sponsored by Indonesia that seeks to “enhance maritime security cooperation in Asia-Pacific” by urging all member states to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In the APPF, resolutions are adopted by consensus, not by a majority vote, which means they have to be acceptable to all member countries.

“Hopefully, on the last day, we will be producing a joint communiqué and will be signed by all heads of delegation, and will serve as a guiding document for multilateral cooperation partnership,” Zubiri said.

Meanwhile, the Philippines and the United States yesterday concluded their three-day first-ever joint patrol exercises with two of the Philippine Navy’s newest and biggest warships teaming up with littoral combat ship of the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINPACOM).

The BRP Jose Rizal and BRP Gregorio Del Pilar performed cross deck operations, officer of the watch maneuvers, and publication and communication exercises with the USS Gabrielle Giffords.

AFP public affairs office chief Col. Xerxes Trinidad, said the events formed part of the three-day maritime cooperative activity (MCA) in the WPS that began off Batanes on Tuesday.

“The MCA is an approved activity of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board and within the framework of the Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty,” he explained.

“It was aimed at testing protocols and further enhancing interoperability between the AFP and USINDOPACOM,” Trinidad said.

Meanwhile, the southern theater command of China’s military said on Thursday the Philippines enlisted “foreign forces” to patrol the South China Sea and has been stirring up trouble since Tuesday, in an apparent reference to the United States.

“China has made clear its position to the Philippines and the US that the Philippine-US joint patrols must not undermine China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Wednesday.

The Philippine foreign ministry and the national security adviser’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. — Michael Punongbayan


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