The Philippine government will support the United States’ presence and actions in the disputed South China Sea as long as Washington will provide peace and stability in the region, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Tuesday.
He made the statement even as the Supreme Court set oral arguments on the petition of fishermen from Palawan and Zambales to compel the government to protect the disputed shoals in the West Philippine Sea, where Chinese fishermen have reportedly been harvesting marine resources.
The 15-member bench resolved to hear on June 25 the writ of Kalikasan case filed through the Integrated Bar of the Philippines seeking the issuance of a writ of continuing mandamus to protect, preserve and rehabilitate the environment in the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal and the Ayungin Shoal and Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef.
Panelo said the Philippines desires “peace and stability” in the area, and as long as Washington helps to preserve peace for the greater good amid China’s continuing military buildup in the area the Palace will support it.
“Well, the Philippines would want stability in that part of the world. The Philippines’ position is that every country has the right to use the waters in the South China Sea as well as the air space, and we want peace and quiet in that area,” Panelo said.
So, anything that will provide such kind of atmosphere, we are for it. If the presence of the US will make it so, then that’s good for all of us, all of the claimants.”
Panelo made his remarks after US Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Washington would not ignore Beijing’s aggression in the contested resource-filled waters.
In a recent security forum in Singapore, the US official called out China for Beijing’s use of coercion to advance its interests in the controversial South China Sea.
“Behavior that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions must end... We’re not going to ignore Chinese behavior. In the past, people have kind of tip-toed around that,” Shanahan said.
Meanwhile, Panelo said he was not surprised that Shanahan issued such statement. “They have been saying that. But they are not doing it. It seems like what is happening is just posturing,” he said.
But Panelo said the Philippines would object to the US presence if they entered Philippine waters without asking for Manila’s permission.
“Of course, they will need to ask permission from us… We will object if they will come to our area,” he said.
“We are supposed to be a sovereign country, no country should also come into our territory without our consent and knowledge.”
Panelo said it was up to Washington to determine the “limits” of its actions in the South China Sea to promote stability in the region.
“You cannot also impose on them. Whatever they should do, it’s for them to decide. That will be left to their judgment, whatever their limits are,” Panelo said.
In his speech in Japan, President Rodrigo Duterte questioned China’s claim to the entire South China Sea, urging Beijing to finish the South China Sea Code of Conduct to lessen the risks of conflict in the disputed seas. With Rey E. Requejo