The Department of Foreign Affairs has called for a resumption of talks on the proposed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, but repeated the Philippines’ position that disputes should be resolved peacefully and based on international law.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. made the call last week during the virtual Association of Southeast Asian Nations ministerial meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Locsin made his call even as Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Tuesday filed a resolution urging the Defense department to retain two Navy stations in Sangley Point, Cavite, to maintain security especially in the Manila Bay area.
Rodriguez filed Resolution 1199 saying the development of the Sangley Point International Airport would entail the relocation of Naval Station Heracleo Alano and Naval Station Pascual Ledesma.
He said the naval base where the stations were located served as the headquarters of the Naval Installations Command and housed “other vital facilities and offices of the Philippine Navy.”
Rodriguez, quoting Navy Chief Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, said Sangley’s location “allows the Navy to conduct surveillance operations and use it as a staging point.”
Locsin said despite the restrictions imposed on travel to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the region, it was still necessary to push through with the talks.
"It is imperative to bring everyone back to the negotiating table to demonstrate to the world that we are sincerely committed and determined to arrive at a conclusive result, one way or the other, but we must get down to sincere and serious work," Locsin said.
As early as 2012, Manila was pushing for the code of conduct to ease the tension among the claimant countries in the South China Sea, but experts said Beijing was deliberately taking its time to allow the negotiation to start since it wanted to complete its facilities in the disputed waters.
It was only in 2017 that the ASEAN and China formally agreed to start negotiations on a legally binding code of conduct to ease the tensions in the disputed waters and prevent the dispute from spiraling into an armed conflict.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea through which more than $5-trillion worth of goods pass every year.
Besides China, the other claimant countries in the area are the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
In August 2018, the ASEAN and China agreed to a single draft of the code, with an agreement reached in November that year for both sides to finalize the document within three years starting in 2019.
A legally-binding code is expected to ease the tensions in the disputed waters while enhancing confidence-building measures among the claimant countries.
However, aside from the pandemic, China's continued aggressive activities in the area targeting the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam have undermined trust and are seen as having a major impact on the negotiations for the code.
But Locsin said those challenges should not be seen as obstacles but rather as problems to prod the countries involved to push for the talks to achieve an effective and substantive code.