MANILA — President Benigno Aquino III blamed the joint marine seismic undertaking (JMSU) entered into by the Arroyo administration with China for the worsening of the dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

Mr. Aquino said he had instructed Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who visited Beijing until July 9, to discuss the issue with Chinese officials.

“The territorial issue on the West Philippine Sea is hot. Our administration is with the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) in pushing for a rules-based international system for peaceful, fair and beneficial dialogues for a general agreement,” he said in a speech during the 113th founding anniversary of the DFA.

“When the previous administration decided to draft a new agreement in 2005, the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking, which allowed other countries to explore the waters covered by our territory, the small bump of controversy became a dense mountain of a problem,” Mr. Aquino said.

He said that during del Rosario’s visit to China, one of the main points for discussion would be the West Philippine Sea.

He also said the date of his state visit has not yet been fixed, but it will take place this year since it was important to talk, even to opponents.

“We should promote understanding instead of giving each other the silent treatment, especially when the lives of people are at stake,” Mr. Aquino said.

The President also said the Philippines would not rely solely on the support of the U.S. in dealing with China on the West Philippine Sea dispute.

“This is our problem. I suppose the first ones to solve these would be us too and the other claimant-countries, especially within the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] bloc. Our focus here is to deal with the problem as a bloc,” he said.

The Philippines is presently working on a lease agreement with the U.S. for modern planes and watercraft to protect the country’s territory.

On Monday, an unidentified fighter plane flew over the Dalagang Bukid Shoal in the Kalayaan Island Group, scaring fishermen in the area.

The incident was the latest intrusion into the country’s air space within the West Philippine Sea.

In May, two unidentified fighter jets flew over two OV-10 Broncos of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) while it was patrolling the Kalayaan Island Group.

Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay declined to give specific information on the recent air intrusion.

“I can’t give you the details. Yes, there was that incident (intrusion) and we are aware of that but it’s the operating command that has the details,” Tonsay said.

He said the incident once again “shows the need to modernize our Navy.”

Most of the operational gunboats in the Navy inventory were used in the Second World War.

Test of diplomacy

A retired Philippine ambassador who led the country in drafting and negotiating the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) said the Philippines should not fall for China’s offer to claimant states of a bilateral dialogue to diminish the instances of bullying the claimants.

Lauro Baja, former Philippine ambassador to the United Nations in New York and foreign affairs undersecretary for policy, said the Philippines should push for del Rosario’s advocacy of a rules-based South China Sea, which will “test the mettle of Philippine diplomacy.”

“It is an ideal proposal which will run smack to several realities. Since China claims the whole sea and islands of the South China Sea, it has been reluctant to enter a rules-based regime such as a code of conduct over the area,” Baja said.

The suggestion for a structure of cooperation on the South China Sea other than peaceful dialogue, Baja said, is immediately needed.

Baja explained that the South China Sea has become a more complex and complicated issue since the DOC.

He said a specific structure in the South China Sea separate from the ad hoc ASEAN meeting and ASEAN plus 3 meetings and devoted solely to the South China Sea issues should now be pursued.

When the DOC was drafted and negotiated, Baja, Malaysia’s Mohamad Abdul Kadir, Vietam’s Tam Chien and Le Cong and Brunei’s Lim Jock Sung had regular contacts with China’s Assistant Minister Wang Yi and former Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Fu Ying.

“These senior officials including myself kept the issue alive and at the same time kept acts and statements from getting out of hand. The bond of trust and confidence played a crucial role in the DOC. It is now time to elevate the discussion of the South China Sea to a more formal structure,” he added.

The DOC, a basic fundamental pillar of cooperation signed between ASEAN and China, was entered into by members of the ASEAN and China to reduce tension, peacefully resolve claims over the South China Sea and improve the general political climate in the disputed islands.

He noted that the DOC has served its purpose as the region has changed and positions of parties concerned have shifted.

Instead of geographical segregation, Baja said segregation and concentration on issues should be made where there is reasonable chance of cooperation, such as exploration and exploitation of natural resources in the South China Sea.

He pointed out that oil and gas deposits under the South China Sea are useless to claimant states if not explored and exploited.

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