Promised ‘compromise’ on fishing not good enough

“It wasn’t exactly the bacon that President Marcos was expected to bring home.”

This was what The Philippine STAR editorial yesterday said about Marcos Jr’s statement after arriving from a three-day state visit to China: that he consid-ered it a “good start” President Xi Jinping promised to

find a “compromise… a solution” that will allow Filipinos to fish unimpeded in the West Philippine Sea” and that the two presidents “agreed to open direct communications to prevent miscalculations in the South China Sea.”

Titled “A ‘compromise solution’,” the editorial noted: “The Chinese are renowned for moving at a leisurely pace when it comes to acting on controversial is-sues, and it could take a hundred years before the ‘compromise’ is reached on the fishing grounds.” (Hyperbole? Not quite.)

“Filipino fishermen’s groups had hoped for a more solid commitment from Xi that Chinese vessels would stay out of the West Philippine Sea,” the editorial added.

It pointed out Filipino fishermen “have long complained of being driven away from their traditional fishing grounds in the WPS (Panatag/Scarborough Shoal) by swarms of large fishing boats backed by Chinese coast guard vessels…typically consist[ing] of about 200 vessels that encroach on the Philippines’ 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ).”

True enough, the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) has been rejecting any compromise, instead demanding the immediate pullout of Chinese vessels from Philippine waters. Yesterday, Pamalakaya national spokesperson Fernando Hicap (a former par-ty-list member of the House of Representatives) said:

“There can only be one solution: China must abide by the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (referring to the 2016 ruling by the United Na-tions-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague) that recognizes our exclusive economic zone. China should leave the Philippine waters immedi-ately and unconditionally. No compromise.”

From the House of Representatives, senior member Rufus Rodriguez Thursday urged President Xi to show good faith in his offer to resolve maritime dis-putes with the Philippines by withdrawing all Chinese ships from the WPS. Such a move, he said, would enable “our Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard [to] freely conduct patrols and our fisherfolk can do fishing activities without fear of harassment.”

As regards the 2016 arbitration court ruling, The STAR editorial said “it is unclear” if President Marcos directly raised it with his Chinese counterpart (pointing out that former president Duterte had done so in his own meeting with Xi).

“Marcos merely said he and Xi agreed that maritime disputes ‘do not comprise the entirety of our relations’,” it noted, but that he had also mentioned that such disputes “pose significant concerns for the entire region and must be resolved peacefully.”

The STAR’s report yesterday said: “Marcos had impressed upon China that the welfare of Filipino fishermen is his No. 1 priority in the WPS and in working out an agreement with Beijing to lessen tensions in disputed maritime territories.”

After arriving in Manila yesterday, Marcos Jr. didn’t speak further about his “No. 1 priority in the WPS,” no comment on whether Xi’s promise to find a “com-promise” was enough for him.

He only said that the state visit was “a good start” in the Philippines-China relationship, claiming there was “much achieved” in the three-day visit and that “we will continue to work on this most important relationship with this most important partner.”

(One wonders how the United States – the Philippines’ historically neocolonial partner in an unequal military defense treaty and numerous political and economic agreements – would take this superlative description of China as the country’s “most important partner.” With Russia much weakened under Vla-dimir Putin’s prolonged despotic and corrupt rule, China has now become America’s chief geopolitical rival.)

Awed at China’s phenomenal economic development, Marcos Jr. told reporters: “I have seen considerable progress in terms of economic development… The China that I experienced in my earliest visits [was not] the economic powerhouse that it is today.”

He indicated a prolonged interaction with China, aimed at strengthening the two countries’ relationship to “help smooth the way to a greater and deeper and stronger partnership.” The end-goal: a “stronger foundation” for resolving the maritime disputes in the WPS and other issues. These would involve more vis-its, as he disclosed:

“I do not believe this will be the last visit we will be making to China and we are anticipating as I (continuously) reiterated an invitation to President Xi and Madame Peng (Xi’s wife) to come to the Philippines and visit with us on perhaps a state visit, on official visit in the future.”

Throughout his arrival speech, Marcos Jr. didn’t touch on how he would handle the key stumbling block to resolving the maritime disputes with China – the latter’s stonewalling on its already discredited territorial claim over almost the whole of South China Sea and its refusal to recognize the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling.

Meantime, in a press conference before leaving Beijing, Marcos Jr. announced he would proceed with his travel to Davos, Switzerland later this month (Jan. 16-20) to hobnob with the world’s top business executives at the super-expensive World Economic Forum (WEF).

Not only that. He also said he would visit Japan after the Davos splurge. “I think the tentative date is around the second week of February,” he said. Having been invited by Japan’s Prime Minister Funio Kishida,

Marcos Jr. explained why he deems that visit important.

“The Japanese have many concerns about regional security and the Philippines is seen as an important part of maintaining that security in partnership with friends and partners…around the Indo-Pacific, Asia-Pacific region.”

Does Marcos Jr. think the Davos and Japan trips require more of his time and attention than the myriad domestic problems needing urgent actions that his administration faces in the new year?

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Published Philippine Star
January 7, 2023

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