Malacañang on Monday said the Philippines does not have to seek China's consent to declare Pag-asa Island and Eastern Kalayaan in the West Philippine Sea marine protected areas.
"No," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said at a news conference. "As far as we are concerned, that’s ours. You don’t have to ask any consent from anyone."
Panelo acknowledged that a declaration, which will come from President Rodrigo Duterte, may irritate China, which maintains it has sovereignty over Philippine-held islands and features in the South China Sea, a part of which is being referred to by Manila as the West Philippine Sea.
"That will be another irritant. Ang mangyayari niyan, if you declare a particular stand and they will declare another stand, oh di may deadlock, oh di mag-uusap na naman tayo," he said.
It was National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. who revealed last week that the Duterte administration is looking into the possibility of declaring Pag-asa and Eastern Kalayaan as marine protected areas.
Esperon said declaring them as protected areas would promote efforts towards "environmental and marine biodiversity protection" within the West Philippine Sea.
In May last year, Duterte declared portions of the uncontested Philippine Rise as a marine protected area with around 50,000 hectares limited to scientific undertakings and 300 hectares as special fisheries management area.
The Philippines and China have agreed to tackle their differences over the South China Sea bilaterally.
Manila used to support a multilateral approach and even took Beijing to arbitration as regards the overlapping claims resource-rich sea.
China does not recognize the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing's excessive claims to the South China Sea and spelled out the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.
In his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Thursday, Duterte said the ruling caused "irritants" in the relations between the Philippines and China, according to Panelo.
The Palace spokesman said the "irritants" included the presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa and the alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen in the disputed waters.
“Both of them [Duterte and Xi] agree that the mechanism of bilateral relations will be used to resolve the conflict,” Panelo said.
Aside from the Philippines and China, other claimants to areas in the sea include Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. — BM, GMA News