Media interview of Jose Santiago Sta. Romana, Ambassador of the Philippines to the People’s Republic of China

Event Interview of Jose Santiago Sta. Romana Ambassador of the Philippines to the People’s Republic of China
Location Grand Hyatt Hotel, Beijing, China


AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Also known as? [laughter] Chito Sta. Romana. [laughter]

Well, I just want to greet everyone. It’s nice to see you again. It’s only been a few months since I last saw you. I didn’t expect to see you so soon but you are most welcome.

As you know this visit started with the President’s interest of showing his support for the basketball — for the Philippine basketball team, but it has now become a high-stakes diplomatic engagement.

And today is the big day specifically tonight when we have the summit meeting between President Duterte and President Xi Jinping.

I just want to say a few words. I think the President has made it clear that from his point of view the time has come. I think the first three years he has exerted a lot of the diplomatic capital to build a reservoir of goodwill and friendship with President Xi. They have met at least seven times. This is the eighth meeting.

And also because he has only three years to go. And so he has decided that it’s the time to include in the diplomatic agenda and in the discussions sensitive issues that may have caused misunderstanding if it were brought up in the past.

One is of course the arbitration award. The President actually has mentioned it in several discussions with Xi in the past, but not in a direct or honest discussion as an exchange of views on the subject. So this is an opportunity.

We have no illusion that we can solve the issue overnight. I think the important thing is to bring it to the fore of the diplomatic agenda. However, as the saying goes, the disputes do not define the entirety of — or the totality of the bilateral relations.

So aside from areas of difference, we will of course have on the agenda possible areas of cooperation. And one in particular is the question of the oil and gas cooperation. Another one, of course, is the whole issue of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. In addition, the agenda will include, you know, areas of economic cooperation, a review of the different projects, areas for more cooperation in the economic, in the infrastructure area. So we have the economic — members of the economic team here as well as members of the security cluster.

Of course in one sitting we don’t expect to solve everything but at least with the two heads of state meeting and hopefully reaching a higher level of consensus, we can push forward different areas. I think the President is very much interested to move forward on the MOU on oil and gas cooperation that was signed last November. And I think the MOU provides a roadmap for moving forward.

In the past two months, last June, the Philippine side submitted its proposed terms of reference to the Chinese side, and the Chinese side agreed to it and submitted their letters, their notes of agreement last July. So that has already been agreed upon.

Now the question is how to move forward further. And it’s possible the two sides will discuss, you know, the need to form now the joint steering committee and the working committees — the entre — joint entrepreneurial working committees meaning composed of the companies that will actually be engaged in the cooperation.

So that is an overview of how the situation will go. You know generally when you have two heads of state meeting they don’t deal with the nitty-gritty. That will be done at the working level. But they will at least come to some agreement on the general points of — a consensus that will then be provide the impetus for the working groups on both sides to continue and work on the details.

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. But at least you know if there is this consensus at the top level, it will help to push the process forward.

Okay? With — with that as an introduction… Ah if I may add one thing, the basic approach we follow in terms of Philippines-China relations is to recognize that there are areas of difference and there are fundamental differences with respect to sovereignty, with respect to sovereign rights, with respect to the view on the arbitral award but they don’t constitute the totality of the relations.

And that is why the other aspect is that there are areas of cooperation. And as we have shown on the past three years, we have moved, we have fast forwarded areas of cooperation: trade, tourism, investments, infrastructure, education, cultures, science and technology and there are more that will be signed tonight.

So if you view it as a unity of opposites that there are two sides in the relations: the differences and the areas where there are no differences. Then the basic approach is to manage the differences peacefully, diplomatically through high-level summits, through the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism and to more forward on the areas of cooperation so as to propel forward and to maintain the positive trajectory of Philippines-China relations.

I’m open to any questions.

Joseph Morong (GMA-7): 
Sir, ‘yung medyo recent lang yun pong apology nung Chinese fishermen. Do we consider it as an act of the Chinese government or just a personal act on behalf of the fishermen? And if it is a Chinese action, what is its implication on maybe the relationship of the — of our countries? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Actually, the issuance of the public apology by the ship owner is a welcome development. It helps clear the air for the bilateral talks that will happen tonight.

But for your background, what we have gone through is really separate but parallel investigations as the plan was. And then, we exchanged results. And we found out that we basically agreed on the key points of what happened.

So as far back as late June, early July, during a meeting of the joint commission on agriculture and fisheries between the Chinese government and the Philippine government, it was held in Beijing, the fisheries official of China already expressed a verbal apology and gave us a verbal report which we have transmitted to the authorities.

But it was clear to us that not only from the President but also from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he made it clear what we want is a public formal apology written not verbal. And that’s what took a bit of time. It was the result of intense negotiations between our DFA, our Embassy and the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy, and it took a lot — several rounds.

And I guess to a certain extent the visit provided an impetus because we were telling them that unless this is cleared, then it will come up in the discussion. I mean it could still come up but at least now on a positive note it’s really how to avoid for the future.

And in a sense we have — we’re near if — or we’re on the cusp of a closure. I mean there’s still the compensation issue. But generally speaking, I think we have made a breakthrough. This apology of course represents the ship owner. But in a sense I think through diplomatic discussions with the Chinese side, we have made it clear that this had a negative impact, had an adverse impact on the bilateral relations particularly on China’s image.

And that one way to correct this was through what you’ve seen: the public explanation, the investigation and the apology. So we welcome this development.

From the point of view of course of the Philippines, from the very beginning we took note of it because we wanted to know more. And up to yesterday, that was the position that the DFA took, that we took note of it.

It has — as others have pointed out, of course, it has a name that we accept you know Nansha or that the Reed Bank is part of Nansha or the Spratlys. That is a separate issue. And that is a whole separate discussion altogether. But on the issue of the fishing boat incident, I think it’s settled in terms of being a — it was not a ramming incident, it was an accident. The Chinese provided their explanation. They didn’t see you know that night. There are other details that they provided.

But the point is, the key — the highlights were as released yesterday. So the implications I think it helps to clear the air. It helps to… As the reaction of the Philippines showed that it’s never easy to make a public apology. But in this case, as Secretary Panelo has said it was an act of humility and, of course, we take it as it is.

Mr. Morong: Sir, just one last on the subject. Why did we want a public apology from the Chinese? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Because I didn’t — what we didn’t want was, you know, they’ll tell me I’m sorry and then I’ll be the one to tell the Filipino people, well, he said I’m sorry. We wanted them to explain to the Filipino people.

And that I think that’s why we wanted something not in the name of DFA or not in the name of the result of discussion. But something that… And it was supposed to be between two fishing boats. So it was very necessary.

To be fair to the Chinese side, there was a request from the Chinese side they would send a delegation to visit the fishermen. Yes.

But at that point, the atmosphere was just not too favorable and we thought we had to clear… If they were to go now, it’s — we could consider it. We haven’t had any further discussions on the matter. [laughs]

Alexis Romero (Philippine Star): Ambassador, follow up, any update on the compensation for the fishermen and what will be the system for the giving of compensations? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Well, this is a matter that will still be subject to more studies and more discussion — more negotiations actually. But again, just for your background, the Chinese did express their willingness to compensate very early on but again verbally.

But we knew compensation was probably the least of the issues given China’s standard of living and their economy. It was really the issue of the apology and the responsibility.

They, they — even the accepting the major responsibility that was pretty early on on a verbal basis. And so but we wanted, you know, to clear the air.

On the compensation, this is a matter that will have to be studied because they are procedural. But we will probably proceed and try to help out the fishermen and boat owner in the Philippines. And the question is how to quantify all this. So you obviously need expert advice.

And so this is something the other department agencies concerned will have to deal with and help the fishermen. BFAR will also play a role and possibly DOJ. 

Pia Gutierrez (ABS-CBN): Sir, with the Philippine government accepting the apology of the ship owner, does that mean that the Philippine government will no longer seek accountability with the fact that the Chinese side abandoned the Filipinos in the middle of the sea? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: They did provide an explanation for the abandonment that they didn’t mean to abandon.

There are additional details like they knew the — they heard the shouts for help but they couldn’t understand the language and they were overcome by fear. And then that they reported instead to the fishing authorities of China that what happened as they were leaving. It does not excuse them for their responsibility. Their responsibility includes that, by the way, the fact that they did not rescue our fishermen.

And it is something that’s a subject for further discussion in the sense that how do we avoid this in the future. Maybe they should have reported to our fishing authorities or to all — a body that will notify all the literal countries. I think if they knew they were Filipinos, maybe it would have been a different story. 

Ms. Gutierrez: So we will — will we still expect efforts from the government to make them accountable for what happened? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: It’s an ongoing discussion. But you see what was released was the general statement. There is a detailed report but it’s again we have to compare results and I think they have accepted that it was a mistake to also abandon.

But I think what they were — what is not clear is — or rather in the future, that we want that to be avoided and it should not happen again.

Ms. Gutierrez: Sir, who will be paying for the damages? Will it be the Chinese government or the ship owner? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: It was — by the… It’s a mutual insurance company. So they make a distinction between their government and the provincial and the fishing boat. You know that is not — in other words, it’s not directly owned in the sense that… But you know in China there are a lot of levels of state-owned government on the central level, on the provincial level so that complicated in this case.

But we’ll know more at this point. But the letter was written by the Guangdong Provincial Fishery Mutual Insurance Association which is like a —  you know the different fishing companies they put together a fund for insurance purposes to cover you know accidents and the like.

Marlon Ramos (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Good morning, sir. Sir, the apology issued by the fishermen’s association does not bind the Chinese government? And corollary to that, is there a need for the Chinese government to make its own apology to the actions of their fishermen?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Are you gonna go to a long discussion on this one? I think the fact that the Foreign Ministry was deeply involved in these discussions with us, the moral responsibility I think they share.

But the specific responsibility is that of the fishing boat. In other words, they actually facilitated the investigation and exchange of results. So the Chinese government cooperated.

Mr. Ramos: Is there a need for the Chinese government to issue a separate apology? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Actually the Chinese government through the Foreign Ministry has expressed their sorry — they’re very sorry about the incident through diplomatic channels already.

Mr. Ramos: Okay, sir, should this settle the issue or the concern of some of our lawmakers that the fishing boat which was involved in the incident is militia fishing boat kasi — 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: The… I should tell you for background, we’ve also been told through diplomatic channels, it’s not a mem — it’s not a part of the maritime militia. 

Mr. Ramos: Not? 


Mr. Morong: Through the…?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Diplomatic channels.

Mr. Morong: Okay. 

Jen Calimon (TV-5): Sir, just a follow up to Pia’s question a while ago. We accepted their apology, they offered compensation, but will we or the Chinese government impose specific sanction to these Chinese fishermen, sir? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: It’s a subject of further discussion.

Ms. Calimon: And sir, can you please address the issue of somehow questionable timing of the issuance of the written apology considering that now or the President is here in China, sir? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: No, I think it’s the result of intense diplomatic efforts on both side. When there were discussions on the agenda, I think it was quite clear — we made it quite clear that the President wanted to discuss a range of issues in the West Philippine Sea, the South China Sea, and of course, this is one of the issues.

And as a result of that, you know there were some discussions you know. They were — we were saying that we didn’t consider this resolved yet or closed yet, that it can be raised. And they were asking why? Well, because we don’t — we don’t have the public apology. We have the verbal. But it would help to clear the air, to improve China’s own standing in the Philippines and it will also improve the atmosphere for the discussions. And I think that is what has been achieved.

Ms. Calimon: But they could have issued the written apology two months ago? Why just now? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: As I said, they — what they did was the verbal apology. But we didn’t think that was enough or we thought it was necessary for the Chinese boat owner to explain it himself not to me, not through DFA, not through the media but through directly to the public. And that’s why there was this letter.

Henry Uri (DZRH): Good morning, Ambassador. Somehow related to Ms. Jen’s question. Did the Philippine government see any criminal act committed by those fishermen involved in that incident?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Well, that’s a complicated legal issue. As you’d know, the DFA issued a protest immediately after it happened. We called for an apology, we called for an investigation, we called for penalties if the investigation showed that there were criminal responsibility.

You see, it happened under international law, this was committed by a Chinese boat, okay, and they went back to China. So the investigation is done by the Chinese authorities.

So, you basically do it through diplomatic negotiations. If we had captured, if we had detained them, that’s a separate story. 

Mr. Uri: But can we say categorically that they are not yet off the hook, Ambassador? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: I have to consult my legal advisers on this issue. [laughs] 

Mr. Uri: All right, thank you.

Mr. Ramos: Sir, in connection to Henry’s question. On the part of the Philippine government, is it an admission of guilt on the part of the Chinese fishermen this issuance of formal apology? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Well, they accepted responsibility.

As to the new ones whether it you know you go into legal niceties here, I’d rather stick to what they said. They accepted the major share of the responsibility.

Mr. Ramos: Ambassador, you also mentioned a joint report — or a joint investigation —

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: There is no joint report. There is no — separate.

Mr. Ramos: Ah separate.

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Separate reports. 

Mr. Ramos: Investigation… Is there a formal report or even a summary of the investigation on this incident?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Yes, we have a copy. 

Mr. Ramos: Are you willing to make that ah — release that document? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: [laughs] This is a… This is right now — this is to be determined by the Foreign Secretary and the DFA. 

Q: Thank you, Ambassador. I’m with the South China Morning Post. I wanted to ask you a bit more about the joint oil and gas cooperation. So could you talk a bit more about that like the ratio and also is it going to cover the disputed area? How is it gonna — ? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Well, right now we’re on the early stage so it’s difficult to answer you for sure.

But what the — basically I’d ask you to go back to the MOU because it lays it out, it’s the roadmap. We want to achieve cooperation in joint exploration in areas in the West Philippine Sea, South China Sea, both disputed and undisputed. Because the question is who disputes what? [laughs] So it’s — this is… From our point of view that — from the Philippine point of view, undisputed, as from the Philippine point of view, disputed.

The Chinese accept certain areas are undisputed so that shouldn’t be a problem. Basically what we — what is the situation now is that there is a moratorium. So there is no — it put a stop to oil exploration and development.

So I think the plan is you know to get the framework ready so that the steering committee can start the ball rolling and as well as the work groups and they can start meeting. And ah — so that the service contracts which have been affected by the moratorium can also proceed. You know they’ve been put on hold.

So there’s a lot to do. The problem is we’ll take it one step at a time, okay. And it’s difficult to outline all the answers to all the questions. Some of the questions may have to be resolved through negotiations, through the companies themselves. And hopefully the end of this is like a commercial contract. That is what we look forward to.

But from the point of view of the Philippines, of course, there are certain constraints, the Philippine Constitution, UNCLOS. But if you look at the MOU, there is a statement there that on the one hand, we follow the spirit of the UN Charter, UNCLOS, international law; on the other hand, both sides will proceed without giving up their positions, their legal positions on certain issues.

So we are trying to find a way within certain parameters to move forward. And so far it would take a lot of flexibility and pragmatism on both side. And so a lot of this will be through discussions, negotiations and consultations.

So you have a story to cover in the next couple of months as the story unfolds. I cannot tell you the conclusion but there is a hope that we move forward and hopefully… Because it’s very important for the Philippines, the basic issue here if you look at the big picture, is really one of energy security.

Malampaya is running dry. And it’s going to affect our power supply. So that’s why the President is moving with a sense of urgency to move the process forward especially in his last three years.

And so we hope to get it going as fast as possible. But it would take — it takes two to tango as they say so. In this case, you need to work together and cooperate. Hopefully find areas of cooperation with the Chinese side.

Isabel De Leon (Manila Bulletin): Good morning, Your Excellency. My name is Isabel De Leon of Manila Bulletin. May we get details of the six government-to-government agreements that will be signed and the other agreements that you — that will be signed today or later tonight? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Well, you know nothing is signed until it’s signed. So I think the proper time is afterwards. You will be told.

But generally what I know right now is it has to do with the higher education, science and technology, I think there is something also on infrastructure cooperation and other forms of economic cooperation. But I don’t have the actual six and the details and also because we’ll — after it’s done you know and we’re sure — because in the past sometimes the last minute there have been changes.

So when it’s done at a proper time it will be released. I mean as you have seen last November, sometimes it takes a couple of days. But eventually they’ll be released and you can also keep asking from them, from the lead agencies concerned. Because the ones who will sign you’ll know, it will be announced. Their departments are the ones concerned so they will be the ones to explain in more detail.

My role is diplomacy. [laughs] I’m not the whole government but I could tell you the overall situation.

Cristina Pastor (FilAm Magazine): Good morning, Ambassador. Cristina Pastor of the FilAm. Were you at all surprised that the Chinese government agreed to a meeting where the agenda would be — would include the West Philippine Sea, and the Hague ruling, and the Chinese fishermen? For the longest time they had not — they have avoided talking about these matters with us. All of a sudden now, there is this openness. How do you explain that, sir?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: [laughs] Well, I think, as I said earlier, I think the Chinese side and the President has explained it, he is not coming here to impose it on China. He is not coming here to provoke the Chinese. He is coming here to exchange views, to understand where the differences lie. And to have a deeper understanding, and to see where there are areas where the gaps can be bridged.

He is here to build bridges, not to burn bridges with China. So I think the Chinese side has been reassured that it’s within the framework of the Philippines continuing a friendly and cooperative relationship and that it will be a friendly and honest discussion.

And that they have met so many times. I think they have reached quite a high level of rapport that they have become, you know, good friends. So when you are friends, there’s nothing you cannot discuss with each other.

And even though the differences may be quite fundamental, still you have to understand why the reaction is such or why we took this position and why the Chinese took this position.

Because sometimes we know why we took our position but it’s difficult to understand the other side. So it is, in a sense, trying to understand the Chinese position while explaining our own position.

I don’t expect that… You know, it’s 500 pages that you read the 500 pages to each other, no. I think what is the — basically this is the beginning of a long dialogue.

As the saying goes, when you have a long journey, the first step is very important. And so we are taking this first step. And subsequently, it will probably at the working level, the bilateral consultative mechanism, the Foreign Ministry political consultations.

There are other channels as well as continuing efforts on think tanks on both sides to understand each other’s position. Because there are actually very deep legal issues involved here on both sides.

It’s not quite so simple. You know why? International law cannot be enforced. Why — why we sought this, what happened. I mean, in other words, I think the Chinese know the President, too.

President Xi, I think, has a good measure of the President. So I think he expects an honest discussion, direct but friendly — in a friendly and cordial atmosphere.

So I think in that context, it’s not gonna be a shouting match. It’s gonna be a very civil and diplomatic discussion.

Mr. Romero: Ambassador, what are the chances that Presidents Duterte and Xi will discuss the POGO issue?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: What are the chances? I think — I think the President is prepared if the Chinese would raise it. The Chinese have already expressed their position publicly — quite publicly.

So whether they’ll raise it or not is we’ll see. But the President’s position, I think as Secretary Panelo has already explained to you, there are differences and there are again areas of cooperation.

About two weeks ago, there was a PNP group here, the Anti-Kidnapping Group, that met with their counterparts on how to strengthen law enforcement — cooperation in law enforcement in cracking down on the criminal elements that have been kidnapping Chinese in the Philippines.

And of course, some of them are related to online gambling. A lot of them are related to online gambling. But it’s not only Chinese syndicates. There are some Filipino criminal elements. Guns for hire in the Philippines that are working together with them.

So both are interested to crack down on this. So that’s an area of commonality. Well, the difference is is that in China, gambling whether online, offline, whatever, is illegal. In the Philippines, it is legal.

So it’s possible when the Chinese crackdown on the websites here that there will — a part of the market, a big portion or at least half of it or at most half of it, supposedly half of the market is Mainland China, will be affected. Because with all the announcements made, I think it’s meant also to signal to the mainlanders that, you know, this is not acceptable.

And the Chinese have — and the Filipinos have already cooperated. I think there was one reported — [unclear] cooperation. They started actually with some Chinese who had online websites but this one was engaged in pornographic sites. And they were brought back to the — the Chinese citizens were brought back here with the help of the PNP.

So… So I think we’re ready if the discussion is on it. And I think the Philippines, right now, is already taking steps to regulate, you know.

Originally, the Philippine concern was you know the influx of Chinese tourists who became employees because you know we don’t — we hardly provide work visas here of China. Only for ADV — you know, a very few. It takes time. So they you — there is a syndicate that organized this.

You know, they would bring them — make them join tour groups and then while there they trans — convert the visas to work permits which on the visa that we issued it’s not allowed.

But apparently there’s — some government agencies can do it. So there are some leakages that we are trying to plug, and hopefully to tax them, to regulate them, and to bring it to a reasonable level because the increase was just too much, you know, and it was a concern early on for us. The Chinese concern came in the spate of killings and kidnappings, and a lot of Chinese families were complaining to the government. So they have taken the cudgels.

Mr. Romero: Ambassador, you said President Duterte is prepared in case his counterpart brings up the request to ban online gambling.

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Well, the President is being prepared for all sorts of issues, yeah.

Mr. Romero: Okay. So how will he respond in the event that President Xi brings up that request that at least ban illegal — or ban online gambling?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: [laughs] Panelo already told you yesterday that he will say it’s legal in the Philippines.

Mr. Romero: So we will reject?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: No, that’s not rejecting. It’s explaining [laughs] — explaining the difference. No, we can’t dic — they can’t dictate on us. That’s our sovereign decision. So that’s… That… That is where we stand.

Mr. Romero: Okay, to be more diplomatic, we will make —

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: We’ll explain our position.

Mr. Romero: — we will keep it legal?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Unless the President decides otherwise, because this is an office. This is under, I think, a presidential — what’s it? An executive? I’m not clear on all the legal details. But I’ll leave it to our experts to deal with this.

For me, I think the key is for the President to be ready to explain, you know. And it will have an economic impact on us. So if we are to do it, we want a soft landing. We don’t want a drastic, you know, impact that will be adversely affect our economy.

As a matter of fact, we are already trying it. We’re trying to regulate, to tighten the screws, so to speak, and to monitor. I mean all these efforts, you know, the creation of the hubs, issuance of tax information — TINs.

All of this is meant to keep it within bounds. And then with the Chinese now taking their position, it’s possible to business. We will now have to downsize to an appropriate level that will be supported by the market that is available, you know.

Mr. Romero: Thank you po.

Mr. Morong: Last batch of questions, sir. Sir, ano lang we’re interested lang to know if there’s going to be a one-on-one, a four eyes meeting between the President and President Xi if it’s in the schedule? Or you’re not free to say? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: [laughs] We’ll just report on what happens after. I think the President is ready for all possibilities. The key is for him to communicate what he wants to tell President Xi.

But you know, I’m participating in these discussions. I mean, it’s usually an exchange of ‘you say your piece, I say my piece,’ and so on, and then — and then time. You know, time is limited. You can’t — you can’t discuss an issue on and on if you want.

But then they try to summarize their points, and then you agree on areas of cooperation. Where you don’t agree, you agree to disagree, or discuss it again at a future opportunity. In other words, things that cannot be resolved right away then you try to take it up at the next opportunity.

So as to whether it will be four eyes, eight eyes, or more eyes, [laughs] there will certainly be the bilateral, you know, that we’ll have. And sometimes they — there’s a smaller group that meets afterwards on directly relevant issues.

But we’ll reserve that for our future opportunity. [laughs] Hopefully I’m not the one. [laughs] But so just so you know how the diplomatic meeting is done.

Mr. Morong: Sir, another concern in the Philippines are the — hindi naman sir incursions but the passage of Chinese warships in territorial waters —


Mr. Morong: Is this on the table and — ? 

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: No, no. This is — this is again is a matter of — has been a matter of diplomatic discussion. As you know, the Philippines has already filed a diplomatic note, note verbale.

Well, you can call it a protest note where it’s really asking for a clarification on why — where did you come from? Why did you have your AIS turned off? Or you know, what are you doing in our waters?

The Chinese position by the way is… And I shouldn’t explain it for them but this is what they told us, but you can find it also in their websites because it was asked at the Foreign Ministry briefing.

My recollection is that they say it’s a “innocent passage”. No hostile intent. And they say if there are any concerns on the part of the Philippines, we can discuss it through diplomatic channels and also between military-to-military so as to clear the air.

So I think again it’s… If it’s done through consultation, I think we can clear the air.

Mr. Morong: At this point, sir, if they’re saying it’s innocent passage —


Mr. Morong:  — we’re fine with it. I mean…


Mr. Morong: Oo.

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA:  You know, as the saying goes in diplomacy, trust but verify. You take them on their word but you observe what happens, and then you make a determination.

So it’s good. We exchange views. You have to combine diplomacy with deterrence. You have to combine negotiation with validating, you know, what’s been said. There’s no magic formula but those are the basic approaches we follow.

Mr. Morong:  But we would require them in the future to still inform us because the President has issued an order that all foreign vessels should —

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Well, that’s the call to all — a call to all. And this is a matter again for the maritime experts, the legal experts, to deal with because it seems there is a need for Archipelagic Passage bill. Because under the law, if you don’t have that, then they will pass through what is — what’s done in the past. And apparently, these passageways were open to commercial traffic as well as warships in the past.

So the question really is was there any hostile intent? What were they doing there? And the Chinese have shown willingness to consider our concerns.  

Mr. Ramos: Sir, are you aware if China has already made a formal request for the Philippines?


Mr. Ramos: Are you aware if there’s already a formal request from the Chinese government for the Philippine government to ban all POGOs and all kinds of online gambling catering to Chinese?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: They said it openly.

Mr. Ramos: A formal request?


Mr. Ramos: Course through your office?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Through me? Not through me. No, it’s open. It’s public. I mean, they don’t have to go through me. [laughs] They… They said it publicly. They call for an end. There was a statement already.

Mr. Ramos: Yes, of the Foreign Ministry?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Yeah, of the Foreign Ministry.

Mr. Morong: But in terms of procedure, they do not have to file anything to your desk?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: They could. But in this case, they took an open position. That is why — that’s why you have to explain each other’s position. I mean we’d like to know, you know — we understand their concerns and why they would like it.

But we have our own concerns that’s why we cannot do it at this point. So… So and why it’s legal in the Philippines. So go ahead with the mainland — mainlanders, you know. The area under their jurisdiction. We have our own jurisdiction.

If it’s not to the mainland but to Hong Kong — I mean to… I mean it’s part of China but it’s separate — that’s territory right now is Hong Kong and Taiwan, or the Chinese diaspora around the world, that’s separate issue. And Philippines — I mean, Filipinos I don’t think are involved in this but it’s mainly a foreign market.

So I don’t understand what the question is. Have they made any formal complaint? Not to me. They have openly said it in their Foreign Ministry statement. So that’s more of their expressing their public position.

Mr. Ramos: Isn’t it surprising for the Chinese government to suddenly have a change of heart on this issue because this has been going on for nearly three years now?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Yeah, yeah. No, no. I think as I said, it’s been a while but I noticed an increase in their concern as the number of Chinese killed or kidnapped increased.

So it’s  — it’s normal for any government to be concerned about its citizens and that it’s because of this — the human trafficking issue, that’s because of the online gambling.

So it’s… We take it as an area where we may have different points of view but we can have cooperation insofar as the crackdown on the legal — the criminal elements involved in this, and also in  regulating the market so that the phenomenon of human trafficking.

I mean, this is similar — our OFW story abroad it’s similar in their case, you know. So that is a legitimate concern. And where we can help? We’ve been willing to help, you know. It’s not a…

It’s a big issue for us because it has an economic impact and also because we have a different perspective, you know in terms of the — it’s legal in the Philippines.

Now as to the deeper, you know, whether you’d need to do a review, that — that’s a bigger issue for the government beyond my competence at this point. [laughs] 

Mr. Morong: Sir, with regard to the 60-40 agreement, the President has been mentioning that in the past. But do we know now the area of coverage of the possible 60-40 sharing? Will this be the same service contracts like maybe 72 or 58?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: It’s a bit early. I think 57, let’s say 57, that’s not — it’s not a problem probably as we go further — as we go further.

So a lot of this will have to go through very intense rounds of negotiations between the experts, you know from DOE, and or the particular companies concerned.

They have to come up with a contract. But the contract has to be in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and also with the — with UNCLOS. And since the Chinese are involved also in accordance with the Chinese Constitution, I think.

So there is a — there is a — there will be protracted or at least intense negotiations on the legal points and legal experts will have to come in and see how they can phrase it in a way that will be in keeping — that is acceptable to both sides.

Mr. Morong: How many service contracts are involved, sir?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: No, no. By service contracts, we mean those that have been already awarded and those to be awarded. How many service contracts are still under the moratorium? That’s a — Secretary Cusi is here. [laughs]

But there are several, certainly several. I don’t have the exact count. But we have the Energy Minister — Energy Secretary who is here.

Mr. Morong: Just focusing on the Recto Bank. That is disputed territory ‘no and not what’s going to be — ?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: We don’t consider it disputed. We consider it part of EEZ. The Chinese consider it part of their jurisdiction — area of jurisdiction.

You see, this is where the fundamental difference is. We have our view of the EEZ and the Chinese have their view of their area of jurisdiction. And because they don’t accept the arbitral award, it’s still that view that there’s an overlap. We don’t accept it but the realities on the ground are such that that’s how they view it.So that’s what we are trying to work out and that is why the President wants to initiate this discussion because the West Philippine Sea is involved as far as we are concerned. 

Mr. Morong: Sir, si Presidente po said that looks like — it looks like the Chinese are okay with the 60-40. Now, if it comes with to the red — Recto Bank, does it mean sir that if the Chinese has agreed to a 60-40 sharing, is it as — same question to Secretary Panelo yesterday — is it a tacit acknowledgement or admission that we do have sovereign rights over the area, and that with reference to the arbitral ruling, that kinds of affirms our win?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: [laughs] I’ll pass on that. [laughs] That is a… That actually hits on the fundamental difference in our point of view.

Now, however, they are willing to be flexible. The Chinese has expressed their desire to be flexible and pragmatic because of the improving bilateral relations.

So what we are trying to do here is to see how far we can go in terms of our friendly approach to China. I mean there are examples already. Scarborough Shoal, the access to…

If they took a hard position, since it’s under their control right now, they wouldn’t allow it. Or you know, they won’t allow it unless we want to insist on it.

But there are certain things that are easier to talk about by not insisting on the differences, by not accentuating the negative but by accentuating the positive. And this is part of diplomacy.

You try to build bridges to bridge the gaps. You don’t want to burn bridges and exacerbate the differences.

Mr. Morong: Sir, with regard to the apology, si Secretary Locsin tweeted that — you know the tweet. So what does he mean by that?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: [laughs] He’s here. [laughs] You can ask him. But I know what he means. His initial reaction was that he would take note of it and pass it on to the President. And so it’s the President’s call.

Mr. Morong: Why did he have to say that he — well by implication is not accepting the apology?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: No, no, he didn’t reject it.

Mr. Morong: Okay.

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: He said he no — he took note of it.

Mr. Morong: Okay.

Mr. Ramos: Sorry, Ambassador. Who should acknowledged the apology? Is it the fishermen or the Philippine government?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: The fishermen. The fishermen. That’s what Secretary Locsin said, ‘I’m not a fisherman so that’s why I’m only noting it’.

And remember, Secretary Locsin is an appointed official, not an elected official. So he represents the department.

Zhuang Ming Deng (Chinese Commercial News): Mr. Ambassador. Just checking for clarification. Is the license for the POGO issued by PAGCOR or issued by Congress?


Mr. Zhuang: By Congress or by PAGCOR?


Mr. Zhuang: Secretary Panelo said it’s up to Congress to ban the POGO. So maybe we need to clarify on this.

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: I won’t get into the details of that. [laughs] That can be resolved domestically. [laughs]

Mr. Zhuang: So we don’t need to go through Congress if ever the government want to ban POGO?

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: I don’t wanna get into that because I’m — that’s not my field of competence.

Ask me about bilateral relations  [laughs] and diplomacy of the visit. Sorry. I think you have to ask that… Let’s see who’s here? I don’t know. Maybe when you go back home.

Mr. Zhuang: Okay, thank you.

AMBASSADOR STA. ROMANA: Finance is here.

— END —


Source: PCOO-PND (Presidential News Desk)