FORMER President Fidel Ramos and his Chinese counterparts discussed the formation of a “two-track” system that will allow both countries to implement confidence-building measures while allowing separate discussions on contentious issues.
In a briefing at Camp Aguinaldo a day after arriving from informal talks in Hong Kong, the former leader met with Fu Ying, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, and Professor Wu Shicun, president of China’s National Institute for South China Studies.
Ramos, who was named special envoy by President Rodrigo Duterte, described the talks as “very, very hospitable” and “very encouraging in the sense that [we have] common interest.”
“We talked about fishing, [returning to the] status quo ante [and] fishing according to the rights accorded by tradition and that means [the] Philippines, China and Vietnam,” he said.
Ramos said he has already reported the results of the talks to the National Security Adviser, represented by former vice admiral Vicente Agdamag, and the Department of Foreign Affairs represented by Ambassador Lea Rodriguez.
But he had yet to speak with Duterte who is in Mindanao and is not expected back until after the weekend.
“As soon as they are back in Manila, we will report to the President personally and then he will tell us what is the next step,” the former president said.
Former Interior secretary Rafael Alunan, who was part of Ramos’ delegation, said both sides discussed “encouraging track two or think-tank exchanges… where we will be discussing contentious issues.”
“That would relieve us [of] the burden of discussing contentious issues because we have another group doing that while we explore ways and means on how to move our relations forward,” Alunan said.
He did not say which “think tanks” would be involved in these issues, apparently referring to the two countries’ territorial dispute over the South China Sea.
When asked if they discussed a UN-backed tribunal’s ruling last month that Beijing’s claims over most of the South China Sea were invalid, Ramos said “we never mentioned that.”
The decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration was widely seen as a victory for the Philippines which has challenged China’s claims to the vital waterway.
Both Ramos and Alunan stressed that they were only informal envoys and that further formal talks would be handled by other parties. They said the Chinese side made no commitments and merely noted their proposals.
“We’re just noting each other’s comments and aspirations and there are points that we’ll be discussing in the future,” Alunan said, adding that China would be elevating the outcome of the meeting through a process all the way to senior Chinese leaders.
But Alunan discouraged Filipino fishermen from restoring their fishing expedition to Scarborough until a formal agreement has been inked.
“We do not know yet how they will deal with this, but in the statement, one of the things that we said that we will explore in the future the human and ecological options and suggestions for the benefit of both people,” Alunan said.
“There was no further discussion [fishing status quo] because we were just there to break the ice. It was just initial, the official agreement, it would be on the bilateral [talks],” he added.
Meanwhile, a task force against unabated illegal fishing in the West Philippine Sea was created to stop efforts of destructive fishing in the area and protect local fishermen against foreigners who fish inside Philippine waters, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Saturday.
The West Philippine Sea Task Force Against Illegal Fishing, which will be headed by Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources chief Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona, will be tasked to secure marine species and the fishermen around the area.
“I directed Undersecretary Gongona to utilize the modern vessels of the BFAR in the campaign against illegal fishing activities and also tap the Philippine Coast Guard in the task,” Piñol said, whose prompted by reports and complaints from Zambales fishermen.
“Illegal fishers who will be captured, both local and foreign, will be dealt with the full force of the law. [It] has to end,” he added.
Local government officials in the provinces of Zambales, Bataan, Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte will also be engaged in the effort to stop destructive fishing in the area.
The DA will also tap local fishermen and assign lawyers to the Task Force to handle the filing of cases against those who will be caught by the WPS-TFAIF.
Piñol said that Zambales fishermen complained that illegal fishermen which also included foreigners—mostly Vietnamese, Chinese and Taiwanese—venture to as close as 50 miles off the coast of the Western Seaboard of Luzon.
“The country needs to protect and conserve its fish and marine resources for the growing Filipino population and the organization of the WPS-TFAIF will be relentlessly pursued,” he added.
Malacañang had earlier said that local fisherfolk who intends to fish near the Scarborough Shoal should “proceed with care” after the Chinese Coast Guard officials blocked a group of Filipino fisherman from entering the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
The shoal, 124 nautical miles of Masinloc town in Zambales, is subject of an ongoing sea row between the Philippines and other claimant countries, which includes China.