By Angie M. Rosales | The Daily Tribune
A serious dialog between China and the Philippines and not the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) the administration signed with the United States government would be a compelling factor for China to amicably settle the territorial disputes with the Philippines, a senator said yesterday.
“I don’t see how the EDCA can be a factor in the conflicting claims between China and the Philippines. That’s strictly between China and the Philippines.
The only parties who can solve that problem or resolve that situation are China and the Philippines. Everyone else is welcome to make suggestions, give their views, give their insights, but at the end of the day it will be an agreement between China and the Philippines that will resolve this issue,” Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr said.
President Aquino, however, had consistently rejected any official dialog with China over the maritime friction and had insisted on third party arbitration through the United Nations but which was a process that China repeatedly rejected.
The senator, during the initial hearing by the Senate committee on national defense and security on the latest joint military agreement with the US last month, noted some vague provisions, especially on the matter concerning the establishment of permanent bases in EDCA as this runs in contrary with the Constitution prohibiting the construction of foreign military facilities in the country.
This came up as Malacanang braces for a legal battle before the Supreme Court due to the piling of petitions before the high tribunal questioning the constitutionality of EDCA.
“I’m not against the EDCA. All I was doing in the hearing was trying to clarify what it really meant. What is going to happen? It has been a long standing relationship between the Philippines and the United States. It should continue,” Marcos pointed out.
He and Sen. Sergio Osmena III pounded on officials from the Departments of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and National Defense (DND) over the provisions in the agreement on permanent basing of foreign military forces that gave the impression of a “limitless” construction of military facilities by the US government.
He further clarified it was actually Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairman of the foreign relations committee in the upper chamber who has raised the legality of EDCA without the ratification of the Senate.
“Beyond that, it is something I did not touch on. I just want to clarify what it does really mean,” he said.
“What are they allowed to do? What are they not allowed to do? Before, when equipment are brought into the country, these were transferred to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Is there a similar provision in EDCA? That’s what I wanted to know. I know the interpretation that was given was that I was opposing it,” he said.
“During my questioning, I did not intend to imply to anyone that I was opposing it. I just really wanted it to be clarified. Even now, there are several questions that needed answers because there are some things that are so general if you read the agreement. Maybe when we come back, that would be in the agenda,” Marcos said.
A minority solon, however, defended Aquino’s tack in resolving the country’s dispute with China despite the latter’s continuing ‘bullying’ tactics in asserting its sovereign rights over the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.
“President Aquino’s decision to seek international arbitration through the United Nations is the best approach in dealing with the territorial dispute with China. Prudence is always the better part of valor,” Isabela Rep. Rodolfo “Rodito” T. Albano III said in a statement.
Albano, member of the Minority Bloc of the House Committee on National Defense, issued the statement as China has intensified its effort to claim ownership of some islands in the West Philippine Sea.
According to Isabela lawmaker, what is clear is that the Philippines has availed of the right approach - rules based, the right process - arbitration and the right venue, and President Aquino must be commended and fully supported by the Filipino people for taking the prudent and correct path to a peaceful settlement of the territorial dispute with China.
Albano pointed out that the maritime claims should be handled and resolved through legitimate and binding diplomatic initiatives.
“Aggression or intimidation or use of brute military force in settling any territorial issue are taboo in today’s global environment where the community of nations and arbitration of territorial disputes provide proper avenues for amicable and peaceful settlement of conflicting territorial claims,” Albano noted.
“The way to settle the issue is through diplomatic means. We should be soft on the outside, tough on the inside,” he added.
Earlier, President Aquino maintained the country’s commitment to resolve the territorial dispute with China in a peaceful manner, noting that the country has filed a case before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) arbitration tribunal.
“Our Constitution clearly states that we renounce war as policy,” the President was quoted as saying.
Last January, the Philippines asked the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration to consider its case. It is thought that the court may not reach a decision before the end of 2015.
The Philippines says that China’s claims are illegal under the UNCLOS.