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Bishops call for Spratlys dialogue

Leaders recommend peaceful negotiations rather than potential conflict over disputed area

Bishops call for Spratlys dialogue
The Spratly islands
Sean Salvador, Manila

June 10, 2011

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Filipino bishops have called on countries claiming the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea to stop their "war of words" and start formal talks over the issue. Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa said the government should initiate formal talks among all claimants of the disputed islands. They include China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam. Most of them occupy one or more of the chain of tiny islands and reefs. "Let us act like civilized people and sit down and have a nice and formal talk between all the claimants," the prelate said. "Engaging in public tirades will do nothing good," he added. Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez of Kalookan also called for calm and restraint on all parties. He said intimidation should be avoided. "We should always look for peaceful ways to resolve the matter. We owe it to our people and to the world to advocate and work for peace," Bishop Iñiguez said. "Always go for dialogue and not conflicts," he added. Bishop Leonardo Medroso of Tagbilaran advised President Benigno Aquino to bring the issue to the United Nations. He said that although the Philippines cannot fight China, the Aquino administration should show the courage to voice its claim. "We don’t have to be diplomatic about it, we just present to the higher court, before the UN, our right, Bishop Medroso said. Tension heightened recently in the South China Sea after claimant countries complained that China has been behaving like a "bully". China, however, allayed fears that it would use its growing economic and military power to threaten its neighbors. Chinese defense minister Liang Guanglie earlier said "democracy in international relations" and respect for "each other’s core interests" are necessary to ensure peace. China on Tuesday accused the Philippines of infringing its sovereignty by making "irresponsible" claims over the Spratlys. Manila, however, is standing pat on its position that China committed incursions in an undisputed territory at least six times this year. Bishop Arigo, however, said fishermen from his diocese are most affected by the ongoing territorial conflict. "Our fishermen are often shooed away by the Chinese when they go there to fish, so we are hoping that this problem will be resolved sooner rather than later," he said.
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