Philippines, Vietnam eye Spratlys ‘wargames’By Dona Z. PazzibuganPhilippine Daily Inquirer2:21 am | Wednesday, March 28th, 2012West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) AFP FILE PHOTOThe Philippines and Vietnam plan to hold joint naval exercises and patrols along common maritimeborders in the West Philippine Sea where the two nations have staked claims to some of the Spratlyislands.The agreement was made during the visit of Philippine Navy officials led by Flag Officer in Command ViceAdmiral Alexander Pama to Vietnam from March 11 to 14.The territorial claims of the Philippines and Vietnam are up against those of regional giant China, whichclaims the entire Spratlys island chain.Pama and his staff met with Admiral Nguyen Van Hien, chief of the Vietnam People’s Navy, and GeneralDo Ba Ty, Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army.“This visit is expected to provide opportunities for the conduct of joint maritime exercises in the WestPhilippine Sea (northeast of Vietnam) and other common maritime domains following proper diplomaticchannels under guidance from the Department of National Defense,” the Philippine Navy said in astatement issued Tuesday.The two Navy chiefs agreed on standard operating procedures (SOPs) to guide interaction between theirrespective navies in the vicinity of Southeast Cay and the Northeast Cay Island.Memorandum of UnderstandingThe SOPs implement a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the two Navy chiefs lastOctober.The Philippines occupies Northeast Cay Island, which it refers to as Parola Island.It lies 45 kilometers northwest of Pag-asa Island, the biggest of the Philippine-occupied islets in theSpratlys. It is three kilometers north of Vietnam-occupied Southwest Cay Island which the Philippinesrefers to as Pugad Island.The Spratly chain of islands is contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, whichhave laid claim on parts of the islands, and by China which claims the entire Spratlys.Pama and his Vietnamese counterpart also discussed the possible establishment of a communicationhotline between the operations center of the Philippine Navy and the Vietnam People’s Navy coveringcommon areas of naval operations, especially for search and rescue.
“This includes the proposed conduct of joint maritime patrols in these common maritime domains,” theNavy said.The Vietnam navy chief thanked the Philippine Navy delegation for the recent rescue of 12 Vietnamesefishermen who were found in distress by the Philippine Navy, and another nine fishermen rescued by thePhilippine Coast Guard.Vietnam offered to host Navy-to-Navy talks in the last quarter of this year.Naval officials from the Philippines and Vietnam also discussed sharing of shipbuilding expertise asPhilippine Navy officials were given a tour of Naval Shipyard X46 of the Hai Long Shipbuilding Company.Navy-to-NavyThe shipyard is “equipped with state of the art shipbuilding and repair yard facilities with the capability tobuild various kinds of warships and high speed vessels up to 500 tons displacement.”Pama proposed sending Philippine Navy personnel to train at X46.Pama was joined by Commodore Joseph Rustom Pena, commander of Naval Forces West stationed inPalawan, and Captain Danilo Rodelas, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff for plans (N5).The naval officials also visited Thailand from March 14 to 17.They called on the Thai Ministry of Defense, the Royal Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Armed Forces.They held exploratory talks on wide avenues of cooperation with proposals of a possible joint exerciseand ship visit by the Thai Navy to the Philippines.”The Philippine Navy officials also visited the Sattahip Naval Base, headquarters of the Royal Thai Navy.Major General Rustico Guerrero, commandant of Philippine Marine Corps, joined the delegation duringthe Thai visit.Philippines, China talking again2 sides to disengage without losing faceBy Jerry E. EsplanadaPhilippine Daily Inquirer2:40 am | Sunday, May 13th, 2012share690 650The Philippines and China are talking again, and they are trying to work out a temporary solution to theirdispute over Scarborough Shoal, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Friday.In a text message to the Inquirer, Del Rosario said the two sides resumed consultations earlier last weekto break the stalemate.The good news from Del Rosario came as Malacañang reiterated that the government had no hand in theanti-China protests in Manila and other capital cities around the world on Friday.
Hong Lei, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, accused the Philippines on Friday of escalatingtensions between the two countries by encouraging protests against China’s intrusion on ScarboroughShoal, a group of coral and rock formations in the South China Sea well within the Philippines’ exclusiveeconomic zone.“It’s a wrong action that complicates and magnifies the issue,” Hong told Asian journalists in Beijing.Hong said the Philippine side broke diplomatic contact “for a period of time” but Chinese officials kept intouch with their counterparts both in Beijing and in Manila, as China was committed to resolve the disputethrough diplomacy.Late on Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Filipino and Chinese diplomats in Manila hadresumed talks to break the deadlock over Scarborough Shoal.The department did not disclose the negotiation points but going by China’s “requirements,” as Hongmentioned in his talk with journalists in Beijing, the consultations would lead to, at best, temporaryagreements that would allow the two sides to disengage without losing face.China’s demands, Hong said, were that Chinese public service ships at Scarborough Shoal—calledPanatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc by the Philippines—not be disturbed, that Chinese fishing boats beleft alone to go about their normal activities, and that Philippine vessels leave the shoal, which China callsHuangyan Island.Face-off at the shoalOn Tuesday, the military reported that the number of Chinese vessels at Scarborough Shoal hadincreased to more than 30, from 14 last week.China now has three big ships in the area, in addition to seven Chinese fishing vessels and 23 utilityboats.The Philippines has only two vessels in the lagoon, the BRP Edsa, a Coast Guard search-and-rescueship, and the MCS 3001, a vessel belonging to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.Not this earlyThe Philippines will never agree to those demands, although Del Rosario did not say how Manila wasresponding. But he indicated that both sides did not expect to reach a lasting solution to the dispute thisearly.“A diplomatic result ending the current impasse in Bajo de Masinloc, which we hope can be achieved, willat best be a temporary one,” Del Rosario said. “Ultimately, we will need an overall solution.”The Philippines has already decided to go for that by going to international courts and forums to forceChina to recognize its sovereignty over parts of the South China Sea—called West Philippine Sea byManila—within its exclusive economic zone.Legal trackAccording to Del Rosario, the Philippine side is “moving forward with the legal track as a durable solutionto our disputes in the West Philippine Sea.”Stressing the need to “pursue a peaceful resolution” of the conflict with China, he said the DFA wouldfollow a three-track approach: political, through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; legal, throughUnited Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) settlement; and diplomatic, through continuingconsultations to defuse the current tensions at Scarborough Shoal.Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson, said the department would press ahead with the legal track. “AsSecretary Del Rosario has said, the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos) would provide animpartial venue for ascertaining who between the Philippines and China has sovereign rights over thewaters around Bajo de Masinloc and also around the Reed Bank area,” Hernandez said.Rules-based approachDel Rosario has repeatedly asserted that abiding by the rules set by the Unclos was the legitimate way ofdealing with conflicting and overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea.In a statement on the 30th anniversary of the 1982 signing of the Unclos by 159 UN member states inMontego Bay, Jamaica, Del Rosario said the convention “has never been more important to the
Philippines than today when overlapping maritime claims threaten as never before the peace andprosperity in our part of the world.”“The Philippines believes that the rules-based approach in Unclos, together with the norms in the UNCharter and international law, are the way forward in addressing in a just, peaceful and lasting mannerthe maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea,” Del Rosario said.Great equalizerScarborough Shoal is located 220 kilometers west of Zambales, but China insists it is Chinese territoryeven though the nearest Chinese landmass is more than 500 kilometers away.Last week, Del Rosario said the Philippines would unilaterally bring the conflict to Itlos following Beijing’srejection of Manila’s proposal for international arbitration.In a text message from Washington, D.C., Del Rosario said the DFA was preparing for the presentation ofthe dispute to the Itlos.The tribunal is based in Hamburg, Germany.He pointed out that Chinese ships were “engaged in illegal activities in Bajo de Masinloc.”“The whole world knows that China has myriad more ships and aircraft than the Philippines. At day’s end,however, we hope to demonstrate that international law would be the great equalizer,” heemphasized. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño