Sen. Angara: Form Diplomatic team to negotiate over Spratly Islands

Senator Edgardo J. Angara urged the government to form a diplomatic team that will urgently negotiate with other Asian countries for a peaceful resolution of the conflict over the Spratly Islands.

The Philippines lacks the military capability to match China's show of naval power in the disputed sea but should not make the government any less assertive in protecting its territorial claims, he added.

"It is obvious from China's continued aggressive behavior and presence that it has enormous economic interest in the Spratly Islands," Angara said, "And so do we and Vietnam and other claimants."

"But this brash display of power is undeserved. We need a forum where we can air our protests and resolve our differences diplomatically as this is the only recourse we have," he explained.

The government has asserted that China has forayed into Philippine territory at least six times. This includes an incident in March when the Philippine Coast Guard reported that a Chinese vessel harassed a Philippine vessel conducting seismic surveys along the Recto (Reed) Bank, which is 80 nautical miles off Palawan and clearly within the 200-nautical-mile national territory defined under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Vietnam and Japan have also strongly condemned the Chinese Navy's increasing presence in their territorial waters.

"Clearly, this issue involves more than the Philippines and China. The resolution to this dispute cannot be unilateral. We must seek the help of our allies in the region, primarily the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to help us resolve this conflict once and for all," urged Angara, who is also the vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

He called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to immediately create and train a diplomatic team that can articulate and advance the Philippines' interests in international negotiations through the ASEAN and the U.N.
"This specialized team should possess the diplomatic and strategic skills, training and knowledge required to successfully negotiate through a dispute of this magnitude and follow through until it is concluded. We must not let what happened to Sabah happen to the Spratly Islands - we lost it because no one followed up on it after the administration changed," warned Angara.

"We have a big chance of becoming self-sufficient in terms of fuel if we ever get control of the Spratly Islands. Consider that the Malampaya gas field project is just a small fraction of that huge reservoir, yet it has provided a significant amount of fuel to the Philippines," stressed the veteran lawmaker.