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By Romy Cayabyab and Josie Musa
“Our stand has always been to call for a rules-based approach because we believe this is the means to a peaceful and fair resolution,” said Philippine Consular General Anne Jalando-on Louis in an information briefing held last Saturday June 30 on the Scarborough Shoal issue.
The briefing, held in Liverpool, was organised by the Alliance of Philippine Community Organisations (APCO) and the Philippine Consulate General “to promote awareness, understanding and appreciation of the Philippine position” on the stand-off between the Philippines and China, both claiming sovereignty, over Scarborough Shoal.
The conflict started last April 10 after a Chinese maritime surveillance ship prevented the arrest of Chinese fishermen by the Philippine Navy who reported to have sighted them engaged in illegal fishing in the shoal two days earlier.
Scarborough Shoal also known as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales province in the Philippines, and 472 nautical miles off China’s Hainan province.
“We seek to de-escalate tension and continue to explore peaceful solutions while safeguarding Philippine sovereignty and national interest,” said Consul General Jalando-on Louis, adding that China however has rejected efforts to resolve and settle the issue in appropriate international fora.
“As we speak today, there are reports that Chinese vessels are still present in the shoal. There are no longer any Philippine vessels in the area,” the consul general added.Other members of the community also invited to speak included Australia Philippines Services League commander Col (ret) Chris Pilao, Global Filipinos Australia chair Lolita Farmer, Australian Military Police Reserve major Tom Baena, and radio broadcaster Joseph Orbase.
One question raised during the open forum was what options are available to the Philippine government in case diplomatic talks fail.
Contributing speakers Mr Pilao and Mrs Farmer both suggested the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOFVA) with Australia, now pending in the Philippine Senate, should be ratified.
SOVFA is the Philippine leverage in the region, said Mrs Farmer who also wrote in an article published at The Filipino Australian arguing a case to ratify the agreement.
The Agreement will be put to vote for third reading when the Philippine Senate resumes this month.
In an interview yesterday with The Filipino Australian, Mr Pilao said, “It is about time that some of our politicians in the Philippines abandon their isolationist policy and look at reality.”
“We need alliances like the SOVFA to prevent bullying tactics by other countries on the Philippines,” Mr Pilao added.
About 80 members of the community including APCO and PCC-NSW officers, Philippine Sydney consulate staff, and Filipino Australian media representatives attended the briefing.