By Francis Wakefield
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said that the country’s relationship with China does not start and end with the issue on South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.
Esperon made the remark after attending Wednesday’s turn-over ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Speaking to Defense reporters, Esperon said that problems or issues remain at the West Philippine Sea but they have managed it through what they call bilateral consultative mechanisms.
“Well it, there remains to be problems there which we have managed through what we call the bilateral consultative mechanisms..Kaya tuloy-tuloy na iyun (that will continue). Rather than shouting out or throwing remarks against each other we have now managed the area,” Esperon said.
“After all ang sitwasyon naman talaga (the real situation) is that our relations with China, for example, does not start and end with the South China or the West Philippine Sea. So now we have strong in trade, as well as in investments and cultural activities.”
“So many people will say, many sources will say the militarization is continuing..We expected that after they were able to occupy and build the islands there. We expected that there will be continuing developments in the big islands which are not small rock or low tide elevation structures. So we are not surprised that there would be reports on emplacements of surfare to air, of course some jammers because they already have stationed troops there,” he said.
Esperon said how they wish they could go back to earlier times when the country has capabilities to prevent an occupation from happening.
“How I wish we could back to earlier times when we have capabiliteis and we were expecting help from perhaps to stop it pero nandyan na yan eh (that’s already there. Ano ngayon ang gagawin mo (What are we going to do), are we going to war?,” he said.
Esperon said despite China’s militarization of the area, he doesn’t believe that the country would be a target by China.
“Militarization if there is, against whom? We are not targets but of course that strengthens their hold on the islands which is expected,” he said.
Esperon said for him, the priority should be strenghtening the country from the inside first by finishing the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the problem with the New People’s Army and lawless groups.
“Kapag natapos na natin iyan (If we can finish that) then we can grow stronger through development. Unang una (First and foremost) is it national policy to go to war, or use war as an instrumnet of, is it an instrument of national policy? ours is for peaceful resolution of all conflict and we go for development,” Esperon said.
With regards to a joint exploration with China, that matter is still being explored by the top leaders.
Esperon also said that the Philippine position is also to push for a Code of Conduct in the South or West Philippine Sea.
When asked for his reactiom on reports that Chinese military transport planes have landed in Mischeef Reef, Esperon said Chinese planes have landed there before.
“If there is, first of all we have to know what it is, first of all we have to know what it is. After all they have landed there before,” Esperon said.
“Nung una pa lang nung pagkatapos ng tribunal ruling (The first one was after the tribunal ruling. Lumabas, nagland na sila dun, as soon as their airstrip was finished you expect a landing there,,” Esperon said.
“i dont see it as a threat but it is a matter of concern if it is militarization and directed to us. So tingnan nating mabuti ano ba yung naglanding dun, kung meron nga (So we have to look at ir very clearly, what planes landed there if there are),”he said.
For his part, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the country can’t do anything if Chinese planes land on Mischeef Reef.
He, however, reiterated that the country is very vocal in militarizing the area.
“We can’t do anything if they send military transport planes. They have a runway, and they can use it,” Lorenzana said.
“We are vocal that we are against that. And we will ask the foreign affairs to make a note verbale, a protest on why they are militarizing that. But the Chinese has been saying that their militarization there is just defensive,” he added.