Foreign Secretary Alberto F. del Rosario, who is attending an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Bali, said Manila wants the UN to define which parts of the sea are disputed and which are not.
He said the Philippines was forced to take the arbitration option provided for in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as it does not require the agreement of the other party.
His comments mark a shift from Manila’s previous stance amid mounting concern in the Philippines over what many there perceive as China’s more aggressive recent posture on the issue.
Manila had earlier suggested that the Philippines and China bring the dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, an independent judicial body set up by UNCLOS in 1982.
China, however, rejected the suggestion, preferring to deal with the issue bilaterally.
Mr. del Rosario said that as a result “we have to look at other dispute settlement mechanisms where we can do it by ourselves.”
The UN Convention provides that a party to a dispute can unilaterally seek two types of arbitration as well as compulsory conciliation, Mr. del Rosario told reporters after a meeting with his fellow ASEAN ministers.
Mr. del Rosario also briefed ASEAN ministers in detail about a Philippine proposal to define the disputed areas in the sea.
He said it was vital to delineate the disputed areas before discussing guidelines to implement a long-discussed “code of conduct” to govern actions in the area.
Manila is proposing that the areas which are not disputed can be turned into a “zone of peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation,” according to the proposal.
China and the Philippines have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast mineral resources, as do Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The Philippines and Vietnam have in recent months accused China of taking increasingly aggressive actions in staking its claims in the disputed areas.
Meanwhile, China’s embassy in the Philippines warned yesterday that plans by five Filipino lawmakers to visit the disputed Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea could damage bilateral ties.
The one-day trip scheduled today goes against Philippine commitments to avoid raising tensions in the area, the Chinese embassy said.
“It… serves no purpose but to undermine peace and stability in the region and sabotage the China-Philippines relationship,” it said in a statement.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Walden F. Bello told AFP the five lawmakers would proceed with the trip.
“There is no reason for the Chinese embassy to worry. They seem to be overreacting to a very small, peaceful mission,” he said.
“We have every right as Filipino citizens to visit Philippine territory.”
The congressmen, including two members of the Liberal Party of President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, are to take a private plane to Thitu island and meet with soldiers and civilian residents based there during the four-hour visit.
Palace aide Edwin Lacierda and the Foreign Affairs department said legislators did not need government consent for the visit.
“They are separate from us… They didn’t even bother to inform us about it,” Mr. Lacierda told reporters, stressing he did not think the trip would strain relations with China.
Foreign Affairs department spokesman Raul S. Hernandez said the congressmen were entitled to go without the department’s permission.
“Our hope is they are in support of the peaceful and rules-based approach to the West Philippine Sea issue,” he said in a statement, referring to the area by its Filipino name. The Philippines and Vietnam have accused China in recent months of taking increasingly aggressive actions to stake its claims, including opening fire on Filipino fishermen. — AFP