Ex-President Aquino appeals for transparency on West PH Sea issue

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(File photo) President Benigno Aquino III

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 29) — Former President Benigno Aquino III called on the Duterte administration to be more transparent in its negotiations with China on the West Philippine Sea issue.

"Pakiusap. Baka pwede ipakita ang negosasyon nila, mas maging transparent tayo dito. Para mawala ang agam agam ng mga kababayan natin. Ang kawalan ng impormasyon, medyo kung ano ano ang papasok sa kaisipan," Aquino said.

(Translation: Perhaps, they can show us their negotiations to be more transparent so we can address the people's concerns. A lot of thoughts may come in people's minds with the lack of information.)

The former president was among the guests during Liberal International's awarding ceremony, where Sen. Leila De Lima was bestowed the "Prize for Freedom" award. 

Without naming anyone, Aquino criticized a statement of an official who said that the Filipino fisherfolk are anyway permitted by China to fish in Scarborough Shoal. On June 11, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque brought fishermen from Zambales in the Palace briefing to attest that they can fish freely in Scarborough Shoal, following reports on Chinese coast guards taking their catch. 

"Tulad isang beses, may nabasa ako. Isang myembro ng kasalukuyang administrayon, sinabi na ngayon mas maganda na napapahintulutan na tayong mangisda sa tubig natin. Medyo hindi ako kumportable doon sa sinabing ganung statement," Aquino stressed.

(Translation: Once I read a member of the current adminsitration saying it's good that Filipino fishermen are permitted to fish in our waters. I am somehow uncomfortable with that statement.)

"Sa'yo ito, di ba exclusive economic zone, papahintulutan kang mangisda sa exclusive mo, parang may mali ho yata sa statement na 'yun."

(Translation: It's ours, it's in our exclusive economic zone, then they will allow you to fish within your exclusive territory. There seems to be something wrong with that statement.)

The former president also revealed, after the arbitration, China and the Philippines has started conducting preliminary meetings on the creation of the Code of Conduct in the West Philippine Sea.

"Noong pagbaba ko sa pwesto, tapos noong arbitration, sinabi ng China na patungo na tayo doon," he said.

(Translation: When I stepped down as the president, during the arbitration, China said we were heading there.)

The former president wishes to know how far the Duterte administration has gone in terms of drafting the rules.

"Matanong lang, andon na ang intensyon na magkikita na tayo. In 2002, may intensyon na noon. 2012 pinaalala ko sampung taon na ang tumakbo, wala pa rin tayong meeting d'yan. Nasa 2018 na tayo, papunta na nga ba talaga tayo doon na merong konkretong code of conduct?"

(Translation: Let me ask, the intention was there for the two countries to meet. There was already an intention back in 2002. In 2012, I reminded that 10 years have already passed, but still we had no meetings on that. It's now 2018, are we really going to have a concrete code of conduct?)

The code of conduct is a set of rules outlining the norms, responsibilities and practices governing the disputed West Philippine Sea.

During a 2002 summit, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to set up a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Aquino said the set of rules have not materialized that year, instead, it was watered down into a Declaration of the Conduct of Parties.

Aquino said there's a need to pursue the formal meetings with China to discuss and set up the binding rules.

'It's Arroyo's last term anyway'

The former president also downplayed House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's return to power, saying this is his predecessor's last term in Congress.

Arroyo is on her last term as a Pampanga district representative. A representative can only be elected for three consecutive terms.

"May more or less, effectively, ano pa ba ang magagawa sa kongreso sa natitirang period na ito na nagbukas ang session," Aquino said.

(Translation: What can be done effectively with the remaining period in the Congress when it opened?

After vacating the presidency in 2010, Arroyo ran and won as the Representative of the second district of Pampanga.

Despite her sickness and while under hospital arrest, Arroyo won the 2013 elections.

Her bid for a third term came easy as she was unopposed during the 2016 elections.

"Tanong natin dito, sana ho wala namang paspasan dito sa natitirang maiksing panahon," Aquino said.

(Translation: We hope nothing will be rushed in the remaining short period.)

Aquino also dismissed conspiracy theories about Arroyo eyeing to become the Prime Minister of the new federal government.

"Masyado po 'atang speculative naman 'yan. Hindi pa naman nakakasiguro kung tayo ay magkakaroon ng bagong Saligang Batas," he said.

(Translation: That's too speculative. It's not even certain yet if we will have a new constitution.)

Aquino deferred commenting on the proposed federal constitution. However, he stressed the need to thoroughly scrutinize the draft federal charter.

The former president also lauded the signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.