MANILA, Philippines – Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang would be arriving in the country for a state visit soon to discuss the issue of the West Philippine Sea, President Aquino said.
President Aquino made the announcement Wednesday during a forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), adding that his administration would refrain from any joint exploration that would compromise the country’s territorial integrity.
Aquino, however, said joint ventures and service contracts for exploration recognizing the country’s sovereignty in the Recto Bank and other parts of the West Philippine Sea belonging to Philippine territory would be welcomed.
Aquino did not specify when the Vietnamese leader would arrive but disclosed the matter when asked about Vietnam’s reported bilateral discussion with China to resolve the dispute.
“We have had previous discussions with the previous Vietnamese president and I think we are aligned as to how to resolve the issue,” he said.
Aquino clarified that the Philippines is committed to ASEAN centrality on the West Philippine Sea issue.
He maintained the position that only a multilateral approach could be used to resolve the controversy.
Vietnam and the Philippines may also discuss the issue of Vietnamese fishermen illegally entering Philippine territory during the Vietnamese leader’s visit to the country, Aquino said.
The Philippine government made representations with the Vietnamese government but adopting leniency although many of these fishermen violated certain Philippine laws, Aquino said.
He, however, said this could not continue.
Because these Vietnamese fishermen usually venture into the so-called disputed waters between China and Vietnam, Aquino said the Philippines would like to adopt a humanitarian way of resolving the issue but not at the expense of Filipino fishermen or the country’s flora and fauna.
The Vietnamese leader also assured the Philippine government, through Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, of Vietnam’s commitment to remain a trusted neighbor and friend of the Philippines.
Sang made the assurance during the courtesy call made by Del Rosario during his recent visit to Hanoi to attend the 7th Philippines-Vietnam Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC).
During their meeting, Sang and Del Rosario welcomed the excellent state of cooperation between the Philippines and Vietnam in the bilateral and multilateral spheres, including cooperation to address regional issues.
Del Rosario underscored the Philippines’ resolve to find a peaceful and lasting solution to regional issues within the ambit of international law.
Sang and Del Rosario discussed the issue of the West Philippine Sea, which is referred to by Vietnam as the “East Sea,” and the shared desire of the Philippines and Vietnam to realize peace, stability and development in the region.
They discussed the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes consistent with international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Sang expressed his desire to see the Philippine proposal for a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation materialize within ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
“Vietnam and the Philippines share a lot of things in common, even with our views on how to tackle issues in the East Sea,” the Vietnamese leader said.
Aquino, on the other hand, said the Philippines’ proposal for a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation in the West Philippine Sea would continue to be pursued.
“We have committed to ASEAN centrality with regards to handling any, shall we say, multilateral talks. So I think we are on track. There is a need for consensus – we are a very diverse group of 10 countries that have various parochial concerns. But at least the agreement to move this along is a very significant step even at this point in time,” Aquino said.
Despite the current territorial disputes, Aquino said the Philippines would like to increase trade and investments, particularly with China.
He said the only problem would be joint exploration in disputed areas, as this would invite a lot of questions.
“If you have not resolved territoriality, questions of royalty will also come in – who gets what royalty and how do we justify it to each of our people? And, of course, I’m limited also by the Constitution that I’ve sworn to uphold and defend. So that in terms of energy exploration in the West Philippine Sea, I think the issue of who owns what has to be resolved first,” Aquino said.
“Now, with regards to other investment areas – and we did go to China, we did agree that this is but one part of the relationship with them – there is a commitment, for instance, to help us with our tourism industry. There are two major travel agencies – one of which owns its own airline and the other one is actually building two hotels already in the Philippines. So the commitment to help us in our tourism industry is not just words but they’re actually undertaking it,” he said.
Aquino said there were other ventures – heavy equipment and truck manufacturing – that were set to commence.
“There are a whole slew of investors that are coming in apart from energy. But they would also want to help us in terms of our energy, our water resource management, our disaster risk mitigation and we welcome all of these assistance,” he said.
Aquino said these kinds of investments would be better in terms of energy.
“I’m thinking out loud – the state that will grant the authority will be entitled to royalties for its people and that counts for sovereignty over a particular territory. While if it’s in dispute, then who actually gets the royalty? If we agree to sharing of the royalty that is a diminution of sovereignty and I don’t think the Constitution allows me to diminish our sovereignty,” he said.