By Genalyn D. Kabiling
The government has not been remiss in taking diplomatic actions against China’s militarization in the South China Sea, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. assured Wednesday.
“The Philippine government continuously monitors the actions of the various claimants in the SCS/WPS (South China Sea/West Philippine Sea). We note with serious concern the growing militarization in the area, such as the deployment of military assets especially on features near the Philippine territory,” Esperon said.
“In response to these actions, the Philippine Government has not been remiss in undertaking diplomatic actions against any nation. In particular, the Department of Foreign Affairs had been raising such issues and concerns at the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) between China and the Philippines,” he added.
Esperon made the remarks after some groups criticized the government for not doing enough to protest China’s increased militarization in the South China Sea.
Recently, China deployed military aircraft and installed missile systems on some islands in the disputed region. The deployment of the nuclear-capable bomber on Woody Island was reportedly part of its military training exercises.
Esperonmaintained there is no need to file a diplomatic protest against China over the deployment of its bombers on Woody Island in the South China Sea because it is beyond the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
He likewise does not believe China was targeting the Philippines because of the improved relations between the two countries.
Amid accusations that the Philippines was not taking advantage of an arbitral ruling that upheld Philippine sovereign rights over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea, Esperon said, “This Administration does not and will not abandon the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea disputes. This is merely set aside in the meantime, in line with the efforts of government at promoting peace, stability, and cordial relations among claimant countries in the region,” Esperon said in a statement.
“At the proper time, we will take full advantage of the tribunal ruling, even as China refuses to recognize this, to serve as basis for the country’s exercise of sovereignty and jurisdiction over features that are in the Philippine territorial waters,” he added.
For his part, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano maintained that government is protecting the national territory and sovereign rights “to the fullest” and will not in any way engage in a shouting match with China.
“The Duterte approach is prudent, patient and pragmatic,” he said at the briefing of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea at the Lower House yesterday.
The briefing was held after the House Special Committee on the West Philippine Sea, chaired by former Speaker and Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. asked officials concerned to discuss implications of recent developments in the West Philippine Sea and the supposed government’s inaction on China’s aggression.
“We have to erase doubts from the members of Congress that we are not doing anything. It’s not true that we are the ones who are always ‘nakikiusap’ (plead) to China,” Cayetano said. “As the President said, we are not slaves to anyone,” he pointed out.
He assured that government is not sitting on the China’s supposed aggressive actions in the disputed West Philippine Sea and has filed “several dozens of diplomatic protests.”
“We are not asking you to trust us blindly. We have been filing diplomatic protests but our critics want us to shout loudly,” Cayetano said.
“Yes, we have differences with them (China), but we have made gains. We are not willing to do the Aquino approach,” he noted. “The Philippines is a peaceful nation. The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy,” he added.
Cayetano said China has assured that the deployment of missiles in three reefs claimed by the Philippines as well as the testing and landing of Chinese bombers in Woody Island in the Paracels is “purely for defensive purpose and not directed against the Philippines.”
Esperon did not discount the fact that “there is threat” and batted for more funding for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) program.
“We are not saying we should beef up our defenses to prepare for war but it is incumbent upon a nation to strengthen its defenses. I don’t want to blame Congress, you must have your own reasons for not giving us P30 billion annually,” he added.
Esperon reported that five lighthouses have been built on Pag-asa, Likas, Parola, Patag and Kota islands — all part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands “to ensure safety of navigation, along our responsibility under the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) to provide navigational safety for all international vessels transiting the West Philippine Sea.”
Esperon said the government was also upgrading the port and airstrip facilities in Pag-asa Island as part of its efforts to promote the welfare of Filipinos living in the area.
“This is necessary for trade, the preservation of the livelihood of the fisherfolk, and the timely delivery of basic necessities of the community in the Municipality of Pag-asa,” he added. (With a report from Charissa L. Atienza)