Marcos Jr., Macron discuss WPS issues in phone call

MANILA, Philippines — President Marcos and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone last Wednesday and talked about the West Philippine Sea row and the visit of a group of French ministers to the Philippines this year, Malacañang said.

A Palace statement yesterday quoted Marcos as telling Macron of Philippine efforts “to maintain the peace, to maintain the stability, keep the shipping lanes open and airways open” in the West Philippine Sea. It was Macron who initiated the call, according to the Palace.

“But may I thank France for all the support that you have given us in terms of our shared values, in terms of following the international law, especially UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and it has been of great help the messages of support and even when you sent French vessels to come and patrol. So I have to thank you, Mr. President, and France,” Marcos said.

It was in the initial part of the two leaders’ conversation that the West Philippine Sea issue was discussed, according to Malacañang.

Their conversation came as tensions erupted anew after the Chinese installed floating barrier in the Panatag Shoal early this month to keep out Filipino fishermen.

The Philippine Coast Guard, in a “special operation,” cut the floating barrier early this week.

Known internationally as Scarborough Shoal, Panatag is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Under the UNCLOS, states have sovereign rights to explore, exploit and conserve and manage natural resources within their EEZ.

Malacañang has again made it clear the Philippines would not be giving up an inch of its territory in its territorial row with China.

“You know that this is an administration that will not lose an inch of Philippine territory or sovereignty. I cannot make a statement about China. Let us say it in general terms. We are out there to defend,” Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said in an interview with Anthony Taberna on YouTube.

In the same interview, Bersamin said the government is considering filing a case against China over the destruction of coral reefs in Philippine waters.

“This is the position that the government will take most likely. We have always conducted our relations, foreign policy on a strictly diplomatic tact. We do not display aggressiveness or aggression or what. But whether or not we will file another case against China is one of the options and I think our lawyers are seriously giving this a study,” Bersamin, a former chief justice, said.

“But it might be, most very probably, very probable, but we are not going to say definitely we will,” he added.

Pressed about the possibility of China not respecting the legal process, Bersamin replied: “You know, there is a point in the filing of cases. We litigate even if China does not participate because that means, you have a resolve, you have a determination to exact some accountability on the part of China and I will be one of those on the side of going against China.”

On China’s claim that Manila had meant to “stir trouble” when the PCG removed the floating cable, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the Philippines was only asserting its rights over its territory.

“We’re not provoking anything, we’re just asserting our rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which is being respected by the whole world, hopefully by everybody including China in the future,” Remulla said.

He said the government’s legal cluster was to meet at Malacañang yesterday to discuss the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea.

“I think we know that we have to file a complaint. It’s a matter of choosing the complaint to file and where to file it,” the DOJ chief said.

Arbitral case

He said he is “more inclined” to file a case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration because it has the “familiarity and the institutional memory to handle cases about the West Philippine Sea.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said the removal of the floating barrier was consistent with the government’s position on the West Philippine Sea.

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra earlier said the government is considering seeking restitution or compensation from China for its “increasing number” of sea transgressions.

During their meeting, Macron also informed Marcos about the upcoming visit of French ministers to Manila but did not give details.

“President Marcos replied to Macron that they could start working during the visit of the French ministers on what had been discussed during the 10th Philippine-France Joint Economic Meeting last June,” the Palace statement read.

Marcos also invited Macron to visit the Philippines. “We can work on what was just held last June, the 10th Philippine-France Joint Economic Committee Meeting. And many of the businessmen from France were able to speak to our ministers and some of the local businessmen as well,” he told Macron.

“And so if your ministers will come to visit the Philippines then that will be the next step from that beginning,” the Chief Executive added.

Marcos noted that the Philippines and France have just celebrated the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic ties. He also recalled his meeting with Macron on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Bangkok last November. During the meeting, Marcos sought a partnership with France on nuclear energy to lower power costs in the Philippines.

During their phone meeting, Macron also invited Marcos to visit France. Also discussed were agriculture and defense matters. Last January, then French ambassador Michèle Boccoz said Marcos accepted Macron’s invitation to visit France.

According to Marcos, Manila and Paris are “taking their discussions seriously to ensure a favorable outcome for the two countries.” While everything is still under discussion, the Philippines would make close diplomatic contact through French Ambassador Marie Fontanel, he added.

“This is all the product of our meetings in Bangkok and I am very happy that … Well, we have been working assiduously trying to make sure that what we discussed we follow up and we come to a good conclusion,” Marcos said.

EU voices concern

Meanwhile, the European Union has joined the Philippines in voicing concern over China’s latest provocations in the West Philippine Sea, during their first Sub-Committee on Maritime Cooperation under the Philippines-European Union Partnership and Cooperation Agreement convened in Brussels on Sept. 27.

During the meeting, the Philippines and the EU renewed their commitment to improve their bilateral maritime cooperation.

“They expressed serious concern over unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability and the rules-based international order, including recent incidents in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” a joint news release said.

“Such activities also include those which damage the seabed and marine environment, interfere with the livelihoods of fishing communities and undermine the Philippines’ food security.”

They also emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and other states, including those mentioned in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions.

“They further emphasized their unwavering commitment to freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage and overflight in the South China Sea, consistent with UNCLOS,” according to the joint news release. – Daphne Galvez, Pia Lee-Brago


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