House Speaker Belmonte to head delegation to China to ease tensions over Spratlys
MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. will lead a small delegation of House members to China this week as part of the government’s “backroom diplomacy’’ to defuse the rising tension in the West Philippine Sea over the Spratly Group of Islands.
Belmonte told reporters that he would present the country’s “viewpoint’’ in its claim over the Spratlys and the sanctity of its territorial waters during a meeting with Chinese lawmakers.
Romblon Rep. Eleandro Madrona, who was part of the delegation scheduled to leave on Monday, said Belmonet’s dialog with his counterpart in China should go a long way in easing the tension in the West Philippine Sea through diplomatic means.
“I believe that the visit of our good Speaker there would help lessen the tension there (Spratlys). Let us hope that we can reach an amicable settlement,” said Madrona who noted that the House delegation was supportive of diplomatic means to settle the dispute.
Belmonte clarified that his visit to China has been booked since 2010, and was an offshoot of the visits made by Chinese lawmakers to the country earlier.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño recently called on the House leadership to take a more active role in resolving the territorial dispute with China and other Asean countries. He suggested that Belmonte invite the Chinese ambassador to present his country’s intentions in the House committee on foreign affairs.
“Congress is definitely one institution that the Chinese cannot ignore. We have good relations and even make representations with our counterparts in the Chinese parliament,” Casino said.
The House members appear lukewarm to a proposal by former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. to revive an exploration agreement among China, Vietnam and the Philippines, which was signed under the previous administration. De Venecia proposed that all countries involved should shelve their claims on sovereignty, and focus on how to tap the oil and gas potential of the Spratlys.