Filipino business chiefs urge peaceful solution
Raissa Robles in Manila
Prominent Filipino businessmen are lobbying both President Benigno Aquino and Chinese envoys in Manila to resolve a maritime stand-off to protect trade relations.
'There are some people who have offered to mediate on the issue,' said Ricky Carandang, Aquino's communications secretary, as a month-long face off between Chinese and Philippine vessels continued off Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. 'We are considering different offers to mediate right now,' Carandang said.
Professor Benito Lim, an expert on Filipino-Chinese relations from Ateneo de Manila University, said the businessmen had written letters to Aquino, urging a peaceful solution.
'I'm not going to mention names but they told [Aquino] they would rather that the conflict or controversy be resolved peacefully through diplomatic means,' Lim said.
'They are worried that the situation could deteriorate, especially after [a Catholic bishop called for] a boycott of Chinese products. They expressed the belief that the relationship [between the two states] can be preserved.'
Some businessmen have pointed to the sudden cancellation of tour packages to Manila and the impounding of Philippine bananas at Chinese ports as being a result of the diplomatic fallout.
Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo tried to downplay the impounding as 'part of the normal course of doing business', a 'temporary dislocation of exports' and 'a phytosanitary issue' because some insects were allegedly found in a number of boxes.
Lim said that historically, trade between the two states had never been affected by previous spats over territorial waters.
Last year, Manila's imports from China totalled US$60.5 billion while exports were worth US$48.31 billion. China is its third top market after the United States and Japan.
However, such statistics are cold comfort for Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association president Stephen Antig, who said: 'We are being bullied.'
With 70 per cent of bananas exported to China, a lengthy ban could affect the livelihoods of half a million Filipinos, Antig said.
Teresita Ang-Se, an influential leader in Manila's Chinese community and the president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, said banana growers in Davao told her they 'are really very worried about what they will do with the next harvest'.
Ang-See said businessmen were lobbying Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing.
'They made representations to cool things down and give negotiations and diplomacy a chance because protest rallies are not helping. They are like pouring oil on fire.'
Many Filipino businessmen, such as Henry Lim Bon Liong, feel as though they are caught in a family quarrel.
Liong, founder and chief executive of packaging and office products firm Sterling Paper and rice hybrid producer company Agritech, said: 'We are Filipinos of Chinese descent. Our biological father is China and our foster father is the Philippines. The two fathers are now quarrelling. We want to patch the relationship up.'
Liong, who is also vice-president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, urged both countries to 'think out of the box and put the sovereignty [issue] aside because it's really the economy that will pull us through'.