MANILA – Filipinos should want the government to regain control of China-occupied islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said this in response to a nationwide poll that found 93 percent of Filipinos say the matter is significant.
“Dapat nga 100 percent. Lahat ng Pilipino dapat (It should be 100 percent. It should be all Filipinos who)…would want to have control over the areas that are supposed to be ours,” he said during a Palace press briefing.
Panelo, however, noted that while Filipinos should give importance to the issue, the reality of conflicting claims with China in the area cannot be denied. The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
“But the reality is, may problema tayo doon (we have a problem there) because China claims to own it too,” he said.
“Eh sa ngayon, dahil nga may problema on the claim of ownership, dadaanin natin sa diplomatic negotiations (But now, because there is a problem on the claim of ownership, we will use diplomatic negotiations). That’s the track that the President has decided,” he said.
The Philippines and China have long been engaged in a maritime dispute as Beijing refuses to recognize an international arbitral ruling that invalidates its sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
Last month, tensions between the 2 countries rose after a Chinese vessel rammed an anchored Filipino fishing vessel near Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea. The 22 Filipino fishermen were then abandoned at sea and later rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the area.
President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted Beijng's proposed joint investigation, with the Philippines and China having one representative each, and a third member coming from a neutral country. China, however, rejected the proposal for a third party investigator.
China earlier said the trawler merely "bumped" into the Philippine boat and tried to rescue the fishermen but was "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats."
Duterte has refused to flaunt Manila's arbitral victory against Asia's largest economy over the key waterway to court trade and investments.