By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

MEDIA BRIEFING. Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo during his press engagement after a bilateral meeting with visiting Thai Foreign Minister Maris Sangiampongsa in Makati City on Thursday (July 4, 2024). Manalo said the Philippines is working with China to reach an “understanding or a possible agreement” over the issue of Ayungin Shoal. (PNA photo by Joyce Rocamora)

MANILA – The Philippines is working with China to reach an “understanding or a possible agreement” over the issue of Ayungin Shoal, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo confirmed Thursday.

Manalo said among the focus of the recent Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) meeting was the current situation over the feature, which had been the focal point of recent tensions with China amid the latter’s continuous disruption of Philippine resupply missions.

“There are discussions and we hope to arrive at an understanding or possible agreement,” Manalo told the Philippine News Agency.

If the talks prosper, this could be the first formal measure the two sides would agree on with regard to the Ayungin Shoal.

The DFA earlier said Manila has not entered into any agreement or arrangement with Beijing concerning the feature, and that only President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. can approve or authorize deals related to the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea.

In a separate interview in Makati City, Manalo said the two sides are “making progress” but “many issues” remain.

The 9th BCM took place on July 2, more than two weeks since the Chinese Coast Guard boarded and destroyed Philippine Navy boats that were conducting a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal on June 17.

In their separate readouts for the 9th BCM, the Philippines and China said they had a “constructive” exchange of views on the handling of the Ayungin situation and agreed to “de-escalate tensions without prejudice to their respective positions.”

“Both sides agreed to continue discussions to find a mutually acceptable resolution to the issues,” the DFA said.

Meanwhile, Japanese Ambassador Kazuya Endo said Tokyo is also watching the talks between Manila and Beijing closely, including the BCM developments.

“Japan highly appreciates the position of the Philippine government, which has consistently demonstrated its commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with the Arbitral Tribunal Award,” he said during the 70th Japan Self-Defense Forces anniversary reception at his residence in Makati City on Thursday night.

He noted that issues surrounding the South China Sea are a “legitimate concern” for Japan and the international community as they affect regional peace and stability. (PNA)