NEW PACT SET FOR OBAMA; U.S. PRESIDENT ARRIVES APRIL 28 FOR OVERNIGHT VISIT

Philippine negotiators are just about ready to submit proposed “key points” for an enhanced defense cooperation agreement that would give the United States wider access to Philippine military bases, as the two countries ended their eighth round of talks on Friday, raising speculation that the deal could be ready in time for US President Barack Obama’s visit on April 28-29. “This round brought us much closer to finding full consensus, and the draft provisions on key points of an enhanced defense cooperation will be submitted to the President for his review,” said Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino in a statement released by the defense department. The Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose Cuisia Jr., expressed optimism that negotiations for the security deal will have already been concluded by the time Obama arrives. The proposed “Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation” will allow the US wider access to Philippine military bases amid increasing Philippine tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea. Key provisions- Batino said consensus was reached on “key provisions and modalities that would reflect, among others, full respect for Philippine sovereignty, nonpermanence of US troops and no US military basing in the Philippines and a prohibition against weapons of mass destruction.” The draft agreement was described as “anchored on mutuality of benefits.” It states that the US access to and use of “Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) facilities and areas will be at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws.”
The agreement would also state that the US would “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines.” The Philippine Constitution prohibits the establishment of foreign military bases on Philippine soil. Manila will be Obama’s last stop in a four-nation swing through Asia, which includes visits to Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.
His wife, Michelle, is not expected to accompany him on the trip, a “working visit that has some characteristics of a state visit,” Cuisia said. Details of the visit are still being worked out by the White House, said the envoy, but Obama is already confirmed to be meeting with President Aquino and his Cabinet. READ MORE...

ALSO: PH, US agree on bases use

The United States and Philippine panels concluded the eighth round of negotiations in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) Friday, and have agreed on key points such as access and use of military facilities and non-permanence of US troops.
In a joint statement by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of National Defense (DND), they said that the draft agreement gives US military’s access and use of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) facilities only “at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws.”
“They have to get our consent for whatever they can bring in,” Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia (photo) said in an interview with reporters at the sidelines of the joint meeting of the Makati Business Club (MBC) and Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). “They will have to get approval for whatever they are going to bring in,” he said.
The agreement also provides that the US military will “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines,” the DFA-DND statement said. All forms of nuclear weapons will be prohibited in the country in accordance with the Philippine Constitution, it said. Defense Undersecretary and Chair of the Philippine Negotiating Panel Pio Lorenzo Batino said that “this round brought us much closer to finding full consensus, and the draft provisions on key points of enhanced defense cooperation will be submitted to the President for his review.” Improving PH capabilities
Cuisia said that the agreement will make it easier for the US to help the Philippines with the modernization program of the AFP. “It is up to the AFP to determine what they need,” Cuisia said. “Remember the two cutters that we got, because the Philippine Navy said they needed cutters, so we made representations to the US and we got them very quickly.”
Cuisia was referring to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz that the Philippines acquired recently from the US. “We would have gotten a third one if we had asked for it, but we did not ask for it at that time,” Cuisia said.
The AFP had also looked at the possibility of acquiring F-16 fighter aircraft but changed their mind due to the high cost of maintenance, he said. READ MORE...

ALSO: PH offers US use of bases Final deal seen before Obama visit

The Philippines has agreed to allow the United States access to the country’s military bases under a new security deal being negotiated by the two allies, amid mounting concern over China’s increasing assertiveness in the disputed waters of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). The offer was made during a sixth round of talks held in Washington last week on an accord that will allow increased US military presence in the country, officials said on Friday. The two sides hope to finalize terms for an “Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation” before US President Barack Obama embarks on a visit to Asia, including the Philippines, next month. Philippine officials said negotiators hurdled a major obstacle in the negotiations at the Washington talks last week. Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, the head of the Philippine panel, said the US negotiators have agreed that Philippine authorities can have access to US facilities set up inside local military bases to show Philippine control over these areas, a sensitive issue concerning sovereignty among Filipinos.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has said that disagreements over the issue of access and control had been delaying the negotiations on the new accord. “Access has always been a primordial concern” for the government, Batino said, adding that the deal was “80 percent”

ALSO: China to US: Back off on sea row with PH

China told off the United States (US), saying it should not be involved in the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) between the Philippines and China. “Comments made by the US in disregard of facts are inconsistent with its non-party capacity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang said in a press conference in Beijing Thursday. “It goes against US commitment of not taking sides on issues of dispute, has a negative effect on the maintenance of peace and stability of Southeast Asia and in the final analysis, does no good to the US itself,” he said. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki previously criticized China for the expulsion of two Filipino civilian ships from Ayungin shoal by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) last March 9 which she said raised tensions in the hotly contested region. “This is a provocative move that raises tensions. Pending resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of claimants to maintain the status quo,” Psaki said.

By Tony Lopez: Is China an enemy?

Tuesday morning, April 8, 2014, the new Chinese ambassador, Zhao Jianhua, finally presented his credentials to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. Zhao arrived in Manila February 23. He had waited exactly 45 days before he could see President Aquino. The Palace press office said Zhao had a brief 15-minute meeting with Aquino, reflecting the current tense relations between the Philippines and the world’s second largest economy. Aquino and Zhao “exchanged views on China-Philippines relations and the South China Sea issue. Ambassador Zhao reiterated relevant principled position of the Chinese government. He emphasized that China attaches importance to its relations with the Philippines,” said the press release. “The current difficulties in the bilateral relations, caused by some problems including the arbitration case on the South China Sea issue, are not what the Chinese side wishes to see, and are not in the common interests of both China and the Philippines,” Zhao was supposed to have said. “It is China’s hope that the Philippine side could, in the spirit of seeking common grounds while shelving differences, work with the Chinese side to properly handle relevant disputes, and to overcome obstacles and bring the bilateral ties back to the normal track of development,” Zhao added. Ambassador Zhao arrived in Manila on February 23 and presented his Letter of Credence to Foreign Secretary Albert F. del Rosario on March 7. The Philippines has sued China before the International Arbitral Tribunal. The “notification” was filed in January 22, last year to seek arbitration “to clearly establish the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines over its maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea.”


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New pact set for Obama US president arrives here April 28 for overnight visit


PORT CALL The USS Howard, an Arleigh Burke-class, guided missile destroyer from the US Pacific Fleet, arrives in Manila on Friday on a “routine” port call. BULLIT MARQUEZ/AP

MANILA, APRIL 14, 2014
(INQUIRER)
By Nikko Dizon and Tarra Quismundo  -Philippine negotiators are just about ready to submit proposed “key points” for an enhanced defense cooperation agreement that would give the United States wider access to Philippine military bases, as the two countries ended their eighth round of talks on Friday, raising speculation that the deal could be ready in time for US President Barack Obama’s visit on April 28-29.

“This round brought us much closer to finding full consensus, and the draft provisions on key points of an enhanced defense cooperation will be submitted to the President for his review,” said Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino in a statement released by the defense department.

The Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose Cuisia Jr., expressed optimism that negotiations for the security deal will have already been concluded by the time Obama arrives.

The proposed “Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation” will allow the US wider access to Philippine military bases amid increasing Philippine tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea.

Key provisions

Batino said consensus was reached on “key provisions and modalities that would reflect, among others, full respect for Philippine sovereignty, nonpermanence of US troops and no US military basing in the Philippines and a prohibition against weapons of mass destruction.”

The draft agreement was described as “anchored on mutuality of benefits.”

It states that the US access to and use of “Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) facilities and areas will be at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws.”

The agreement would also state that the US would “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines.”

The Philippine Constitution prohibits the establishment of foreign military bases on Philippine soil.

“Furthermore, the United States has agreed that any equipment and matériel that the US military may bring into the country ‘shall not include nuclear weapons,’” the statement said.

The agreement will also include the protection of the environment, human health and safety.

The Philippines is seeking a stronger defense cooperation with the US as its territorial dispute with China intensifies.

The US plans to “rebalance” its forces in the Asia-Pacific region, and has similar arrangements with Australia and Singapore, as part of its strategy to contain China’s growing military power.

“After 15 years of the Visiting Forces Agreement and given current realities, challenges and opportunities, the Philippines is ready for a heightened level of defense cooperation. This agreement, which should stand on mutual trust, is an idea whose time has come,” Batino said.

Batino chairs the Philippine negotiating panel whose members include Ambassadors J. Eduardo Malaya and Lourdes Yparraguirre, Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan, and Defense Assistant Secretary Raymund Quilop.

The panel will submit the draft provisions to Mr. Aquino “soonest,” Malaya said in a text message.

“While the panels concluded the eighth round of negotiations, work continues in their respective capitals,” Malaya said.

The talks began in August last year amid China’s increasing aggressiveness in claiming territories in the South and East China Seas, engaging the Philippines and Japan in a bitter maritime row.

No other option

With the changing regional security landscape, the Philippines and the US have no other option but to “make our alliance stronger if we are to maintain international and regional security,” Yparraguirre said in the statement.

She said the proposed agreement is “a step toward realizing that objective.”

Yparraguirre described the agreement being negotiated as a “new model of security engagement” for the Philippines and the United States.

“As we strive to further enhance our security cooperation, we are looking into new dimensions of significant strategic and operational value,” she said.

Batino said the proposed agreement would provide the Philippines the “critical and timely support” its armed forces needs for its modernization to achieve a minimum credible defense posture.

It also provides for a “more expeditious humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and the provision of jobs and other economic opportunities through the local goods and supplies procurement that will be made by the United States military.”

US to protect allies

The US has categorically said it will protect its allies, the Philippines and Japan, which are engaged in territorial disputes with China in the South and East China Seas.

The Philippines has filed a case with a United Nations tribunal to nullify China’s taking control of shoals and reefs within its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

China, which claims virtually all of the South China Sea, claims that the areas are in the nine-dash-line marker of its official map.

Manila last stop

Manila will be Obama’s last stop in a four-nation swing through Asia, which includes visits to Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.

His wife, Michelle, is not expected to accompany him on the trip, a “working visit that has some characteristics of a state visit,” Cuisia said.

Details of the visit are still being worked out by the White House, said the envoy, but Obama is already confirmed to be meeting with President Aquino and his Cabinet.

“[The details] are still being worked out by the White House. We don’t have the details. What we know is, he is going to have a meeting with President Aquino, and of course some Cabinet members. He’s probably going to visit the American Cemetery, but the other activities are still being worked out,” Cuisia said.

“I think the important thing is to precisely reaffirm the strong military and security alliance, strong economic relations and people-to-people exhanges that we’ve had between the US and the Philippines for so many years,” he told reporters following a speech before Philippine business leaders in Makati on Friday.

Obama, who began his first term as US President in 2009, and Mr. Aquino, who was elected president in 2010, have officially met at least three times: in New York in 2010 and 2011 and at the White House during Mr. Aquino’s working visit to the US in 2012.

The last US presidential visit was that of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, who made a nine-hour visit in October 2003.

Asked whether Obama will visit typhoon-hit Eastern Visayas, as earlier speculated, Cuisia said the US President had no room for that on his itinerary.

The US is among the largest foreign donors to relief, rescue and recovery operations in the disaster zone, donating $85 million to the effort.

“No, he doesn’t have much time, and the logistics of a residential visit [to a disaster zone] will be very hard. If Secretary Kerry’s (US Secretary of State John Kerry) visit was hard, [Obama’s] would be harder,” said Cuisia, referring to Kerry’s visit to Tacloban City last December.

‘Really wants to come’

Cuisia said Obama had long been meaning to come, and that he would push through even without “recent developments.”

He said that the visit is pushing through six months after a planned visit in October was postponed because of the partial US government shutdown.

“We’re just one of two treaty allies in Southeast Asia, the other being Thailand. He has not been here in his five years as president, so obviously, he wanted to come. He’s been wanting to come, and he was telling me that in fact he really wanted to come to Philippines,” he said.

“Now, it’s just a coincidence that we are having these ongoing developments. And whether there were these developments or not, he would have still come, being a treaty ally,” he said.

The US is the Philippines’ top defense partner, with a $50 million allocation for the country this year under its foreign military financing program.

As to whether the new security agreement would enable the Philippines to request for greater US assistance in terms of acquiring defense matériel for its military upgrade, Cuisia said: “We have to tell the US what it is we need.”

The envoy said he knew of earlier Philippine plans to request a long-range patrol aircraft and additional C-130s from the US.

US to defend PH

Cuisia also confirmed that the US military provided some assistance to the Philippines in strategizing a recent resupply and troop rotation mission’s evasion of Chinese Coast Guard ships that tried to stop it from getting to the Ayungin Shoal.

Cuisia said US support to the mission was part of its regular activities under its commitment to Philippine defense under the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The US has expressed its commitment to defend the Philippines in the face of aggression, most recently reiterated by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a visit to China earlier this week.

While maintaining neutrality in the territorial claims, the US has categorically rejected China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea for lack of basis and repeatedly expressed support for the Philippine decision to seek arbitration in the UN.

Cuisia said a favorable tribunal decision would “strengthen our case as far as international public opinion is concerned.”

He said the Philippines hoped to see the tribunal’s action in the case “within six months,” perhaps through calling for oral arguments “if they deem it necessary.”

But “we don’t see anything happening before 2015,” he said.

PH, US agree on bases use By Matikas Santos INQUIRER.net 5:22 pm | Friday, April 11th, 2014


Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia says that under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the US military has to get the approval of the Philippine Government for whatever they are going to bring into the country. Photo by Matikas Santos/INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines – The United States and Philippine panels concluded the eighth round of negotiations in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) Friday, and have agreed on key points such as access and use of military facilities and non-permanence of US troops.

In a joint statement by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of National Defense (DND), they said that the draft agreement gives US military’s access and use of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) facilities only “at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws.”

“They have to get our consent for whatever they can bring in,” Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia said in an interview with reporters at the sidelines of the joint meeting of the Makati Business Club (MBC) and Management Association of the Philippines (MAP).

“They will have to get approval for whatever they are going to bring in,” he said.

The agreement also provides that the US military will “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines,” the DFA-DND statement said.

All forms of nuclear weapons will be prohibited in the country in accordance with the Philippine Constitution, it said.

Defense Undersecretary and Chair of the Philippine Negotiating Panel Pio Lorenzo Batino said that “this round brought us much closer to finding full consensus, and the draft provisions on key points of enhanced defense cooperation will be submitted to the President for his review.”

Improving PH capabilities

Cuisia said that the agreement will make it easier for the US to help the Philippines with the modernization program of the AFP.

“It is up to the AFP to determine what they need,” Cuisia said. “Remember the two cutters that we got, because the Philippine Navy said they needed cutters, so we made representations to the US and we got them very quickly.”

Cuisia was referring to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz that the Philippines acquired recently from the US.

“We would have gotten a third one if we had asked for it, but we did not ask for it at that time,” Cuisia said.

The AFP had also looked at the possibility of acquiring F-16 fighter aircraft but changed their mind due to the high cost of maintenance, he said.

Mutually Beneficial

Cuisia said that the agreement will allow US to put up facilities within military owned or controlled facilities.

“This agreement is different in that it will allow the US to put up facilities that will be beneficial to both the US and the Philippines,” Cuisia said.

“Right now under the VFA, if there is no such provision, this agreement will precisely enable us to enlarge the capability of the US to assist us,” he said.

One example Cuisia gave was if the US were to bring in rubber boats that are to be used in case of disaster, they need to store it in warehouses which they can put up.

“Not in civilian facilities. It has to be in AFP-owned or controlled facilities. In Subic, there will be a portion that will be allocated there to the AFP,” Cuisia said.

EARLIER NEWS REPORTS

PH offers US use of bases Final deal seen before Obama visit next month Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:53 am | Saturday, March 15th, 2014


AFP and AP PHOTOS

The Philippines has agreed to allow the United States access to the country’s military bases under a new security deal being negotiated by the two allies, amid mounting concern over China’s increasing assertiveness in the disputed waters of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

The offer was made during a sixth round of talks held in Washington last week on an accord that will allow increased US military presence in the country, officials said on Friday.

The two sides hope to finalize terms for an “Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation” before US President Barack Obama embarks on a visit to Asia, including the Philippines, next month.

Philippine officials said negotiators hurdled a major obstacle in the negotiations at the Washington talks last week.

Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, the head of the Philippine panel, said the US negotiators have agreed that Philippine authorities can have access to US facilities set up inside local military bases to show Philippine control over these areas, a sensitive issue concerning sovereignty among Filipinos.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has said that disagreements over the issue of access and control had been delaying the negotiations on the new accord.

“Access has always been a primordial concern” for the government, Batino said, adding that the deal was “80 percent” done.

“It is safe to say that there will be language that will provide that the Philippine authorities would have access to the areas provided to the US armed forces,” he told a news conference on Friday.

“As a concept, access is assured, being within Philippine military bases, and also the right of the base commander to have access to specific areas shared with them has already been agreed in principle by both panels,” said Ambassador Eduardo Malaya, a member of the Philippine panel.

China factor

The Philippines is seeking a stronger defense cooperation with the US as its territorial dispute with China over areas in the South China Sea intensifies.

The United States plans to “rebalance” its forces in the Asia-Pacific region, and has similar arrangements with Australia and Singapore, as part of its strategy to counter China.

Negotiations began last August on an agreement that would allow larger numbers of US troops to have temporary access to Philippine military camps and bring in aircraft, ships and humanitarian equipment.

Hundreds of US troops have already been deployed in the country’s south to provide counterterrorism training to Filipino soldiers since 2002.

US military access in the Philippines is currently limited to annual joint exercises and port visits.

Nearly a century of US military presence in the Philippines ended in 1992 when the United States closed its bases, including what were then among the largest overseas US military facilities. The Philippine Senate voted a year earlier not to renew the lease on the bases.

While that ended a special relationship going back 40 years between the United States and its former colony which won its independence in 1946, an alliance has endured.

No US bases

The Philippine negotiators did not say whether there will be any limit to the number of US troops or their length of stay.
Batino, however, said any US military facility will not be “a base within a base.”

The Constitution disallows foreign military bases unless under a treaty approved by the Philippine Senate. Opponents of the new accord say it is a way to permanently station US troops in the country to circumvent the constitutional prohibition on foreign bases.

Batino said the agreement would be legally binding but would not require ratification by the Senate, which could delay the actual US deployment.

Under the draft accord, the Philippines will allow US forces joint use of facilities in several military bases like those in Manila, Clark, Palawan, Cebu, Nueva Ecija and La Union, said a military official with knowledge of the negotiations.

“We are only offering US military forces access to fewer military bases,” said Malaya.

The Philippines refused a request for use of civilian airfields and ports, like Subic Freeport Bay, Laoag and Davao international airports, according to the military official.

Philippine and US negotiators are set to hold a seventh round of talks in Manila at the end of the month.

Malaya said specifics such as “who would secure what area” would still have to be hammered out.

He said that the Philippines has maintained its position that the agreement’s duration “would be shorter than 20 years.”

The officials declined to set an April deadline for the talks, citing the need to ensure that language was in line with Philippine laws and yielded the maximum benefits for the hosts.

“If the negotiations are successfully concluded and that happens before the arrival of President Obama, then we will be happy of course,” the officials said.

US presence a deterrent

The Philippines sees hosting more US forces as an important part of its strategy to counter an increasingly assertive China in an escalating dispute over rival claims to the South China Sea, and to help provide humanitarian assistance during natural disasters.

“It will not stop China from its bullying tactics, but it will become more cautious and might exercise self-restraint due to the US presence,” said Rommel Banlaoi, an analyst at the Philippine Institute of Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“The Philippines will also benefit from more exercises and more assistance from the US and it will elevate the Philippines to a major non-Nato ally in the Pacific,” he said.

Friction between China and the Philippines and other states in the region over disputed territories in the South China Sea has increased since last year despite diplomatic efforts to forge an agreement on maritime conduct.

The dispute revolves round competing claims over the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles, and other groups of shoals and islets that the Philippines claims as part of its territory as they lie well within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Just a working title

On Sunday, three Chinese Coast Guard ships stopped two Filipino civilian vessels from delivering food, water and construction materials to troops based on a ship that was deliberately run aground on reef in the Spratlys, the Ayungin Shoal, in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines’ claim.

The Philippines called the Chinese actions “a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines.”
The framework agreement was previously referred to as an “Agreement on Increased Rotational Presence,” which Batino said was “just a working title.”

The change to “Enhanced Defense Cooperation” as a title just manifests the fluidity of the negotiations because during the constant discussions, “language may be changed from time to time,” he said.

“We also believe Enhanced Defense Cooperation captures the essence of the agreement which is to elevate robust cooperation with us to a higher level owing to the shared history between the two militaries and conduct of training activities under the VFA (Visiting forces Agreement) for 15 years. It’s just time even for a further enhancement of our cooperation,” Batino said. Nikko Dizon

China to US: Back off on sea row with PH By Matikas Santos INQUIRER.net 11:44 am | Friday, March 14th, 2014


Chinese President Xi Jinping: No trouble in South China Sea - unless others ask for it

MANILA, Philippines — China told off the United States (US), saying it should not be involved in the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) between the Philippines and China.

“Comments made by the US in disregard of facts are inconsistent with its non-party capacity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang said in a press conference in Beijing Thursday.

“It goes against US commitment of not taking sides on issues of dispute, has a negative effect on the maintenance of peace and stability of Southeast Asia and in the final analysis, does no good to the US itself,” he said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki previously criticized China for the expulsion of two Filipino civilian ships from Ayungin shoal by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) last March 9 which she said raised tensions in the hotly contested region.

“This is a provocative move that raises tensions. Pending resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of claimants to maintain the status quo,” Psaki said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that the two Filipino vessels heading forAyungin shoal were civilian ships contracted by the Philippine Navy to conduct troop rotation and resupply operations.

China however claimed that the ships were loaded with construction materials that were going to be used to build permanent structures on the shoal. China said this move by the Philippines infringed on their rights and interests in their territory.

The Philippines has a small detachment of marines stationed on the shoal with only an old grounded World War II era ship, the BRP SierraMadre, serving as their shelter since 1999.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea as part of its territory including Ayungin Shoal which is 105 nautical miles from the coast ofPalawan, putting it within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

Last Jan. 27, Filipino fishermen were driven away by the CCG using water cannons from Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Panatag Shoal or Scarborough Shoal, located 118 nautical miles from the coast of Zambales province.

China also claims Scarborough as part of its territory. The Philippines has effectively relinquished control of the shoal since the Scarborough standoff in April 2012.

FROM THE MANILA STANDARD

Is China an enemy? By Tony Lopez | Apr. 11, 2014 at 12:01am

Tuesday morning, April 8, 2014, the new Chinese ambassador, Zhao Jianhua, finally presented his credentials to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. Zhao arrived in Manila February 23. He had waited exactly 45 days before he could see President Aquino.

The Palace press office said Zhao had a brief 15-minute meeting with Aquino, reflecting the current tense relations between the Philippines and the world’s second largest economy.

Aquino and Zhao “exchanged views on China-Philippines relations and the South China Sea issue. Ambassador Zhao reiterated relevant principled position of the Chinese government. He emphasized that China attaches importance to its relations with the Philippines,” said the press release.

“The current difficulties in the bilateral relations, caused by some problems including the arbitration case on the South China Sea issue, are not what the Chinese side wishes to see, and are not in the common interests of both China and the Philippines,” Zhao was supposed to have said. “It is China’s hope that the Philippine side could, in the spirit of seeking common grounds while shelving differences, work with the Chinese side to properly handle relevant disputes, and to overcome obstacles and bring the bilateral ties back to the normal track of development,” Zhao added.

Ambassador Zhao arrived in Manila on February 23 and presented his Letter of Credence to Foreign Secretary Albert F. del Rosario on March 7.

The Philippines has sued China before the International Arbitral Tribunal. The “notification” was filed in January 22, last year to seek arbitration “to clearly establish the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines over its maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea.”

The supporting “memorial”, a kind of briefing supporting the complaint, was submitted on March 30, this year. Despite filing the memorial, Secretary del Rosario said “the Philippines will continue to exercise self-restraint and will not raise tension in the South China Sea. The Philippines is not the country that has greatly increased its naval and maritime presence in the South China Sea. Nor has it challenged freedom of navigation. Nor has it blockaded nor forcefully intimidated any other country in the South China Sea.” 


“Countries should be judged by their actions, not by their words,” del Rosario said.
 “We reiterate that arbitration is a peaceful, friendly and a durable settlement mechanism under international law.”

Article 279 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows such arbitration. In 1984, the Philippines ratified the UNCLOS treaty which went into force in 1994.

UNCLOS recognizes a 12-mile territorial sea measured from a state’s baseline. In this area, on everything, the air above and the seabed below, a country exercises sovereignty. UNCLOS also recognizes a 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Here, no sovereignty is granted but the exclusive right to exploit resources within the 200-mile territory from the baseline is recognized. The UNCLOS also recognizes a so-called archipelagic baseline wherein a state can draw a straight line connecting its farthest islands to form a frame. In all three definitions, the right of states to innocent passage is recognized “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state.”

China also ratified the UNCLOS, in June 1996, but made some “exceptions”. It did not agree to three major articles of the treaty – Articles 15, 74 and 83. Article 15 is about delimitation of the territorial sea between states with opposite or adjacent coasts. Article 74 is “delimitation of the exclusive economic zone between states with opposite or adjacent coasts”. Article 83 is “delimitation of the continental shelf between States with opposite or adjacent coasts.”

Interestingly, the United States has not ratified the UNCLOS but is now trying to play mediator between the Beijing and Manila. This is like playing referee even if that referee does not recognize the ground rules.

“China regards stable relations with its neighbors and the United States as essential to its stability and development. China continues to see the United States as the dominant regional and global actor with the greatest potential to both support and, potentially, disrupt China’s rise. In addition, China remains concerned that should regional states come to view China as a threat, they might balance against China through unilateral military modernization or through coalitions, possibly with the US,” says the Pentagon in its 2013 annual report to Congress on military and security developments involving China.

“Despite its desire to project an image of a developing country engaged in a peaceful development strategy, China’s efforts to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity (underpinned by growing economic and military capabilities) have occasionally manifested in assertive rhetoric and behavior that generate regional concerns about its intentions,” adds the Department of Defense report.

Plainly though, China does not recognize the 200-mile EEZ and the archipelagic baseline concept insofar as they impinge on its territorial claims.

Thus, China has, through the years, occupied four major reefs that the Philippines claims under its EEZ—the Mischief or Panganiban Reef, the McKennan Reef, the Gaven Reef, and the Subic or Zamora Reef. In addition, China has also occupied six protrusions in the Scarborough or Bajo de Masinloc which is claimed by the Philippines as part of its EEZ. For over a year now, Chinese boats have prevented Philippine boats from approaching Scarborough.

Manila did not include the Johnson Reef in the Spratlys in the arbitration believing it has sovereignty over it.

Occupation of the four reefs and Scarborough is what the Philippines has been contesting, through no avail, until it went to arbitration under the UNCLOS.

China claims 71 percent or 1.94 million square kms of the 2.74 sq km area of dispute in the South China Sea. Such claim is embodied in its so-called “nine dash line” map which no state, except China, is known to recognize. A China law calls these territorial claims “core interests”, meaning, Beijing will go to war for them.

Accordingly, China is modernizing its navy, one capable of ship-based land attack using cruise missiles and to extend its operations into the so-called “far seas”. It is trying out its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. The Chinese defense budget is second to the US, with $106.7 billion in 2012, ahead of Russia, $61.3 billion, Japan $58 billion, India $45.5 billion, South Korea $29.2 billion, and Taiwan $10.8 billion.

Six states, plus Taiwan, claim reefs, islets and islands in the area. Most of the reefs are under water most of the time.

The dispute boils down to money or potential money. “The East China Sea contains approximately seven trillion cubic feet of natural gas and up to 100 billion barrels of oil,” estimates the Pentagon. The oil alone is worth $10 trillion in today’s prices.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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