President Benigno Aquino III sees the Philippines asserting its claim more on disputed territories in the South China Sea once legal issues on a defense agreement the country entered into with the United States have been settled.
In a briefing with Japanese reporters on Wednesday as part of his state visit to Japan, Aquino indicated that petitions against the US-Philippine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are hindering the Philippines staking its claim on the contested areas.
“Once everything has been ironed out—there’s a challenge before our Supreme Court with regards to this agreement—then perhaps we can also pull our weight and do our share towards enhancing security and stability within the region,” Aquino said.
Before US President Barack Obama's state visit to the Philippines last year, Philippine and American officials signed the EDCA, which will allow an enlarged rotational presence of American troops in the country. The new defense pact is effective for 10 years.
Under the EDCA, the Philippines authorizes US forces to train, refuel aircrafts and preposition their supplies within Philippine territory, which has yet to be agreed upon by both parties.
Critics, however, have questioned the constitutionality of EDCA, saying the pact will trample on the Philippines’ sovereignty.
‘Adhere to international law’
Meanwhile, the President also reminded China “to adhere to international law and to perhaps re-examine its objectives relative to its maintaining the goodwill of the rest of the world.”
“We have to be scrupulous in adhering to the tenets of international law, so that once again we achieve stability, we defuse tensions and we can concentrate on making our people prosperous,” Aquino said.
The Philippines, which calls the disputed areas the “West Philippine Sea,” has already sought international arbitration before a Netherlands-based tribunal to nullify China’s massive claims over South China Sea.
Beijing, however, has refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings, insisting instead on bilateral talks to settle the dispute.
China uses the so-called “nine-dash line” to assert ownership of almost the entire South China Sea, while the Philippines uses the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as basis for its claim.