Previous Arroyo Government complicated Spratlys issue in the West Philippines' Sea: Aquino

President Aquino Monday (July 4) said the territorial dispute over the Spratly Islands at West Philippines’ Sea (South China Sea) became complicated because the Arroyo administration included other countries in the exploration of the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Aquino, during the 113th foundation day of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said the problem would not have been aggravated if the Declaration of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was recognized.

"But when the previous administration made a new agreement in 2005 – the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU), that included other countries in exploring waters that are part of our territory – what used to be lump of a controversy turned into a dense mountain of trouble," he said.

The JMSU, which expired in 2008, included China and Vietnam in the joint exploration.

China and Vietnam are claiming the Spratlys together with Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Aquino said the Philippines does not want trouble but would not allow itself to be dragged into it by bigger countries.

"If we allow them to bully us, the next generation of Filipinos will find themselves squeezed into just one island. If we let them push us around, our 7,100 islands will dwindle into just two digits. It is not fair for others to claim what is clearly ours," he said.

He said this is why the Philippines has always been pushing for unity, peace and a lasting agreement in its dealings with other claimant countries. He said government’s moves have been focused on Philippine sovereignty and the protection and respect of the rights of other countries in the region.

"Let us remember that we are not the only country in the world. We need to ensure that the other countries have trust, confidence and respect in us," he said.

He said no country – whether a superpower or a small dot in the world map – can stand alone.

Aquino said the Philippines under the previous administration was the "dine-dedmang kapitbahay (ignored neighbor)," and that it did not have a consistent foreign policy.

He recalled that during the Iraq war, the Philippines threw its support behind the US, only to leave behind its ally at crunch time. He was referring to the move of his predecessor, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, to give in to the demand of Iraqi militants to pull out Philippine troops in Iraq in exchange for the release of hostage Angelo dela Cruz in 2004.

Arroyo’s decision drew criticisms from foreign governments, and led to the US Embassy in Manila to announce it was re-evaluating its relationship with the Philippines.

Aquino said: "That incident was complicated and not everyone agreed with that policy. But the point that we should remember is: We promised to support an ally."

He said when it comes to foreign policy, the government cannot be evasive, indecisive, nor should it go back on a promise.

"We looked like a neighbor with no word of honor…Instead of strengthening our relations with other countries, they were eroded," he added.

Aquino said the community of nations now feel a change in the Philippines, as shown by his state visits in the US and ASEAN countries. The Philippines had been bugged down in the ASEAN countries after Arroyo make her own decision in the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) without informing the other ASEAN countries (Malaysia and Brunei and Indonesia who have a stake claim of the West Philippines’ Sea (WPS) 200 Nautical Mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

He said the country has received accolades in foreign newspapers for its strong stance and for its handling of the crises in Japan, Egypt, Yemen and Libya.

He said the Philippines showed dedication in helping countries caught in conflict situations.

He said the Philippines’ international reputation was rejuvenated by the appointment of 24 ambassadors who are not only hardworking but dedicated and knew the ins and outs of international relations.

"This only proves that we do not post ambassadors who are merely jetsetters and vacationers," he said.

Aquino, in an ambush interview later on, said the Philippines will chart its own foreign policy.

"It so happens that in this particular case, there was a convergence between the Americans’ and ours with regards to the West Philippine Sea. There’s a convergence of objectives by both sovereign countries. It does not sit well with me when somebody says that we closely align, meaning we abrogate our charting of our own foreign policies to that of another country. That is not permissible. Now we will chart our foreign policy based on the interest of the Philippines," he said.


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