SAN CARLOS CITY, Negros Occidental — President Benigno S. Aquino III said he would rather focus on pursuing the country’s case in the international arbitral tribunal and on crafting a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) than react to China’s actions.
Tensions have escalated between China and Vietnam in the Paracel Islands after China positioned an oil rig in the area. The Paracel Islands is occupied by China but is being claimed by Vietnam.
During the inauguration of a solar energy project here Thursday, the President was asked by reporters if the newly signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) could help the Philippines as China aggressively asserts its dominance in contested areas in the West Philippine Sea.
He, however said that instead of predicting the things that might happen, the country must concentrate on the crafting of the Code of Conduct (COC) by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“Dapat ay trabahuhin na lang natin ‘yung mga kilos na ginagawa natin tulad ‘nung pagsusulong ng ASEAN ng Code of Conduct at saka ‘yung arbitration,” the President said during an interview.
A binding Code of Conduct will clarify the rights of every claimant country as well as its obligations with regards to its claim in the West Philippine Sea.
Once the issue is resolved, there will be more understanding among claimants and regional stability will follow, he said.
China and member countries of the ASEAN agreed on the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. The non-binding agreement aims to maintain the status quo and achieve regional stability.
The Philippines has signed the EDCA with the United States in the midst of mounting tensions in the West Philippine Sea. Aside from strengthening defense cooperation with the US, the agreement aims to boost cooperation during times of disasters.
The EDCA also aims to enhance the military readiness of both countries as well as help the Philippines modernize its armed forces.