South China Sea drills barred in 2002 conduct declaration: Navy chief

The conduct of naval exercises in contested waters of the West Philippine Sea could escalate tensions in the area and is thus not allowed under the 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, the chief of the Philippine Navy said Thursday.

“Conducting naval exercises in a contested area may complicate and escalate the dispute. The countries conducting exercises in that area – (the) US, Australia, and Japan – are not signatories to the 2002 DOC, hence, are not legally and politically bound to the agreement,” Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said in a message to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) when asked whether naval exercises are barred in disputed parts of the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Citing Section 5 of the 2002 DOC of Parties in the South China Sea, Bacordo said self-restraint is of paramount importance in the issue.

“One guiding principle that we want to champion is adherence to the rule of law. That, I believe, is the same principle we put forward in our arguments during the arbitration hearing,” he added.

Section 5 states, “The Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

Parties to the 2002 DOC also reaffirmed their respect and commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight at the South China Sea and to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes through peaceful means.

In November 2002, representatives of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China signed the DOC of Parties in the South China Sea in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, reaffirming their commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the maritime territory.

The PN earlier said it would not join the navies of other nations in the conduct of maritime drills in the disputed waters in compliance with President Rodrigo Duterte’s order.

Bacordo also said the PN would not fire the first shot and is willing to resolve issues through peaceful means despite provocative actions in the WPS.

He was referring to the incident where the anti-submarine corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) was allegedly targeted by the fire-control system of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army – Navy corvette it encountered while patrolling off at the Kalayaan Island Group last February 17, as well as Chinese ships getting too close to replenishment civilian vessels. PNA.GOV.PH