Manila to try its best to avoid war over territorial row: Aquino

The Philippines will try its best to avoid war over disputed territories in the South China Sea although it does not discount the possibility of violent confrontation with other claimants such as China, President Benigno Aquino said Tuesday.

Citing the national policy against war that is spelled out in the Constitution, Aquino reiterated his country's call for a serious yet calm dialogue in addressing the issue to be able to reach a universally accepted solution. As one of such solutions, he said, the Philippines sought U.N. arbitration in January.

"We will try our best not to arrive at a violent situation because that would be contrary to our objective of having peace, stability and the opportunity to prosper among all of us involved in these territorial disputes," Aquino said.

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims over territories in the South China Sea, which is rich in marine resources and is also believed to contain large deposits of oil and natural gas.

Manila and Beijing have been particularly at odds with each other over the last two years due to counterallegations of intrusions in the area, which is also a major route of international commerce.

At an Asian security forum Tuesday in Brunei, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario described Manila's decision to seek U.N. arbitration as one of the two complementary elements in Manila's rules-based approach in the management and resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, the other being a code of conduct between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China.

China, which the Philippines has accused of aggressively asserting its territorial claim, has rejected the move, sticking to its position of only dealing with the issue bilaterally.

Despite its renouncement of war, Aquino said the Philippines should be prepared for any military engagement, and therefore plans to grant its allies the United States and Japan greater access to Philippine military facilities in the future.

"If we don't coordinate with them (the United States and Japan) and create systems in case chaos erupts, I think that's a wrong preparation. It's like no preparation at all," Aquino said.

The Philippine leader clarified, however, that the planned greater access for its foreign allies is not tantamount to giving them permanent bases on Philippine soil.

In 1992, Manila voted not to renew a basing agreement with the United States, which led the U.S. Navy to withdraw from the country more than 20 years ago.

However, the government allowed U.S. troops to return to the country for training and exercise activities after inking the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement.

Aquino said that allowing its foreign allies greater access in the country will provide the allies with "knowledge of our terrain," as well as "interoperability" on both forces.

"Of course, we can't practice (our interoperability skills) outside of our territory. It is but the natural circumstance. If you want a credible alliance, then you will have to have mutual training and that will normally occur within our territory or the allies' territory," he said.

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the Philippines needs to collaborate with its allies like the United States and Japan and offer them greater access to Philippine facilities because the country cannot stand alone amid China's growing power.