DFA: PH Will Take Stand In Defending Its Sovereignty

MANILA, Philippines - Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario Monday said that the Philippines, despite its limited capabilities, will take a stand in defending its sovereignty even as China is deploying more surveillance and paramilitary ships to the disputed Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough or Panatag Shoal).

"We are also pursuing minimum defense posture, build military that can complement our diplomatic capacity," Del Rosario said.

To enforce Philippine maritime laws, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) deployed yesterday another vessel to the disputed shoal the disputed Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Lieutenant Commander Algier Ricafrente, PCG Public Affairs chief, said the 35-meter PCG-BFAR Monitoring, Controlling, and Surveillance vessel (MCS-3006) arrived in the area yesterday morning to backup the 56-meter PCG search and rescue vessel BRP-Pampanga (SARV-003).

Del Rosario added that the agreements reached between representatives of the Philippines and China were not accurately conveyed by the Chinese embassy in Manila to their home office, reason Beijing thinks that Manila is the one not complying with those agreements.

And as the standoff continues, DFA Spokesman Raul Hernandez disclosed that the PCG was able to monitor at least three Chinese fishing vessels inside the lagoon of the Scarborough Shoal, which China calls the Huangyan Island).

Likewise, a white Chinese surveillance ship was spotted in the area.

Last Sunday, Hernandez said the PCG monitored four Chinese fishing vessels inside the lagoon while two other fishing vessels were spotted outside the lagoon.

Hernandez said, however, that the 2,580-ton Chinese maritime patrol ship Yuzheng 310, which set sail for the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) from the southern port of Guangzhou last week was not seen in the area.

He said they will closely monitor the movements of the Chinese ships in the disputed area.

In a television interview, Del Rosario said that aside from the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the DFA intends to bring the Scarborough Shoal issue to the United Nations Security Council.

"Probably in the UN General Assembly but the proper forum is in the dispute settlement fora of the UN," said Del Rosario. "The Protocol is you go before an arbitration fora, composed of three arbitrators, raise the issue before an arbitration court."

"It could be binding or not but it will carry a lot of moral weight," he added.

Del Rosario said they have been pursuing a diplomatic approach that involves the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) but a more durable or permanent solution is to go the legal round.

"This week we will send them a formal invitation in writing," he said. "If we have dispute here why not pursue it and validate it using United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). We invited them to join us there to validate claims."

Del Rosario said the standoff is something other countries should be concerned about.

"Because even if we are the only ones being targeted the bigger picture is anybody can be targeted," he stressed. "Nations should be concerned."

Del Rosario pointed out that even though the Philippines has limited capabilities, the country will take a stand in defending its sovereignty in accordance with the capacity the nation has through diplomatic, political and legal ways.

"We are also pursuing minimum defense posture, build military that can complement our diplomatic capacity," he said.

At the same time, Del Rosario said a career official, not a political appointee should be named as the Philippines' ambassador to Beijing.

"If I could I'd like to recommend a career appointee, rather a political appointee," he said.

The new ambassador would have no time to "learn the position" and should "hit the ground running" once appointed.

Del Rosario said that he has only one name to recommend to President Benigno S. Aquino III. He said that the person is currently an official in the DFA, but he declined to provide more clues.

Del Rosario said that he believes that the person he is recommending can help the country in its current dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal's territorial ownership.

Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group told the Associated Press that bigger patrol ships sent by Chinese maritime surveillance and fisheries agencies have figured in major flare-ups, including an ongoing standoff with a PCG vessel.

At the same time, the nearly a dozen government agencies handling China's claims compete for budget and power and operate with conflicting mandates and lack coordination, the International Crisis Group said in its report.

Six countries are engaged in long-simmering territorial rifts in the South China Sea, crossed by one of the world's busiest commercial sealanes and accounting for about 10 percent of the annual global fisheries catch.

A map China submitted to the United Nations in 2009 claims virtually the entire area, but China has so far refused to define the exact extent of its claims, causing confusion and fostering potential conflicts, the ICG said.

Some Chinese patrol ships, according to the ICG, were unaware of the limits of the areas where they were supposed to assert sovereignty.

ICG said it interviewed an official with the Maritime Safety Administration in China's southern Hainan province who said he did not know what area to defend. The official was not further identified.

China Maritime Surveillance, an agency patroling the South China Sea, plans to increase its personnel from 9,000 to 15,000 and the number of ships from 280 to 520 by 2020, the ICG said. Another agency, the Fisheries Law Enforcement, plans to acquire more helicopter-carrying patrol ships. Such buildup is separate from the strengthening of China's navy, according to the Brussels-based group.

Amid the escalating tension, the Official Gazette and two other official websites maintained by the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) have been attacked allegedly by Chinese hackers, causing a temporary disruption of service.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the "denial-of-service attack" on the websites of the Official Gazette, PCDSPO, and the Presidential Museum and Library occurred at around 4 p.m. yesterday.

This was the latest cyber attack on a local website amid escalating tension between the Philippines and China on the Scarborough Shoal. The website of the University of the Philippines (UP) was recently hacked allegedly by Chinese groups to assert ownership of the contested shoal. Filipino hackers reportedly retaliated and defaced Chinese government websites to insist the country's sovereignty over the Shoal.

During the cyber attack, the PCDSPO websites bogged down and contained a message "not found." "Apologies but the page you requested could not be found. Perhaps searching will help," a caption on the websites read.

Lacierda said they have traced the source of the cyber attack on the Palace websites to China.

As of 5:45 p.m., the three PCDSPO-maintained websites resumed normal operations.

As this developed, Senator Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan said the United States should make clear what kind of help it can extend to the Philippines should the tension between the Philippines and China escalates.

Honasan said he is unsatisfied with the assuring comments issued earlier by US Marines in the Pacific Lieutenant General Duane Thiessen.

Honasan said the US should issue a categorical statement on how they intend to help save the country from China should the rift worsen.

Deputy Minority Leader and Zambales Rep. Ma. Milagros "Mitos" Magsaysay, on the other hand, appealed to people outside the diplomatic arena to stop issuing statements that would further aggravate the situation.

Magsaysay said those who are not diplomatic experts should shut up and let the DFA handle the issue. (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling, John Carlo M. Cahinhinan, Charissa Luci, and AP)