By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Pambansang Lakas ng Mamamalakayang Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) has issued a demand that the Benigno Aquino III administration stop its plans to ask the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force and help keep China in check in relation to the conflict involving territorial rights over the West Philippine Sea and the group of islands collectively known as the Spratly Islands.
Recently, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon said Malacañang should appeal to the UN for help and keep China and its naval forces from occupying the disputed islands. He said the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines can and should be settled with the help of the UN. Recent reports have it that a large fleet of Chinese fishing vessels have been spotted nearPag-asa Island. He said the request for deployment of UN peacekeeping forces could be included in the case the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) intend to file with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) for the settlement of the Philippines’ dispute with China over Panatag Shoal. All this is based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Biazon was a former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the Corazon Aquino administration and current chairman of the House Committee on national defense.
According to Wikipedia, the term “peacekeeping” is not found in the UN Charter, but the authorization is generally considered to lie in or between Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 of the same. Chapter 6 describes the Security Council’s power to investigate and mediate disputes, while Chapter 7 discusses the power to authorize economic, diplomatic, and military sanctions, as well as the use of military force, to resolve disputes. The founders of the UN envisioned that the organization would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible.
Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France, in a statement, called the proposal “impractical and dangerous.” He said even as his group takes a stand against China’s excursions and bullying attempts, it is against suggestions to bring in UN peacekeeping forces to the Spratlys. Instead of preventing any possibility of a conflict erupting between the Philippines and China, he said, Biazon’s proposal could serve to complicate the political-territorial dispute.
“We cannot dismiss the possibility that along with UN peacekeeping forces, there will also be troublemakers from the Pentagon and from other junior partners of the US,” France said.
Explore all diplomatic venues to settle dispute
The fisherfolk leader said suggestions such as those posed by the Muntinlupa congressman might serve to increase the tension between China and the Philippines and justify the increasingly aggressive presence of US military forces in the country. He said the country’s leaders should consider other rational and more workable solutions to address and resolve the West Philippine Sea conflict.
“They should stop fueling distrust and aggravating the situation in accordance to the game plan of US in Spratlys and in Asia and the Pacific region. By all means, the Aquino government should explore all available diplomatic venues and channels to end the long-running conflict with Beijing, instead of toeing the US’ line on the issue. It’s crucial that Malacañang asserts the country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, but it should do so without obeying US impositions and Washington dictates. The Philippines cannot negotiate effectively if we are doing so not on the strength of people’s sovereignty but on the whims and caprices of the United States,” he argued.
For all of its stand against Biazon’s first proposal, Pamalakaya however gave a thumbs up to the lawmaker’s call to file a case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) to resolve the dispute. It also echoed Biazon’s stand that Malacañang should drop plans to buy warships and aircraft and instead pursue the case before the UN body.
The Unclos is signed by 152 nations, including China and the Philippines. The former, however, refuses to recognize the latter’s sovereignty over territories in the West Philippine Sea that are within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone, insisting instead that these islands are included in Chinese territory. The Beijing government does not want international arbitration to settle the dispute, but is pushing bilateral talks with the Philippines, as well as with other countries also claiming ownership over West Philippine Sea territories.
Pamalakaya also said Malacañang should explore the options provided for in the Code of Conduct on Responsible Fishing of the Alliance of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
China destroying coral reefs
In a related development, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño has issued the call to China to stop destroying Philippine coral reefs. He saidChinese fishing vessels have been dredging and loading corals, leading to their destruction.
“China’s actions are becoming more and more deplorable and should be stopped. It can assert its claim however erroneous, but it should not destroy the environment,” he said.
According to reports, the arrival of 30 Chinese fishing vessels in West Philippine Sea – 20 of which had moved to within nine kilometers of Pag-asa Island – has also affected the area’s biodiversity. Marine conservation experts have also said the coral mining activities of the Chinese fishing vessels will have a serious impact on the important marine ecosystems around the Coral Triangle.
Casiño said the issue should be settled diplomatically at the soonest possible time and file a case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and not only with the Itlos despite China’s refusal to go to court. He said that either the ICJ or ITLOS has at least the authority to encourage China to go to the tribunal to resolve the dispute peacefully.
“Refusal by China to heed the advice of these bodies would put it at a defensive and may discourage its saber-rattling in the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys,” he said.
The lawmaker also took a stand for the Filipinos living on Pag-asa Island, saying that they are facing “a very difficult situation.” He said Bayan Muna has had talks with Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon over plans to install solar panels in the island so the people there can have 24-hour electricity.