PH taking prudent, patient, pragmatic approach’ to China’s militarization

Published May 30, 2018, 3:21 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Charissa Luci-Atienza

Diplomatic and security officials downplayed Wednesday China’s militarization in the West Philippine Sea, even as they assured the public that the Duterte government is taking “prudent, patient, and pragmatic” approach in resolving the territorial spat with Beijing and going to war is not an option.

An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in disputed South China Sea April 21, 2017. (REUTERS/Francis Malasig/Pool / MANILA BULLETIN)An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in disputed South China Sea April 21, 2017. (REUTERS/Francis Malasig/Pool / MANILA BULLETIN)
An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in disputed South China Sea April 21, 2017. (REUTERS/Francis Malasig/Pool / MANILA BULLETIN)

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano maintained that the 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 told during the briefing of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea Wednesday.

“The Philippines is a peaceful nation. The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, ” he said.

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.”

He even noted that the 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 said.

For his part, National Security Adviser and Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said they are continuously monitoring the actions of the various claimants in the disputed South China Sea/West Philippine Sea.

He agreed with Cayetano that government has not been remiss in undertaking diplomatic actions against any nation.

On China’s militarization, Esperon, chairman of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said,
“China now has two aircraft carriers; not there some years back. Is it militarization? Because of those two carriers, sailing across area of China we could conclude there is military activity but is in fact in the sense of training.”

“Are those trainings directed to anybody? Possibly. The same can be said of Balikatan. Are we targeting a certain country or just a legitimate form of readiness?,” he asked.

The briefing was made after the House Special Committee on the West Philippine Sea, chaired by former Speaker and Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. asked the government officials 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’ to China,” Cayetano said.

“As the President said, we are not slaves to anyone, ” he pointed out.

Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon and MAGDALO partylist Rep. Gary Alejano questioned the government’s supposed silence and inaction on the militarization in the West Philippine Sea.

“With the agressive stance and posture of China as shown by the deployment of their defensive facilities, this has prompted the reaction of other countries such as the US by increasing their presence,” Biazon said.

He even asked Cayetano if Philippine authorities and lawmakers can visit the territories being claimed by the Philippines, to which the foreign affairs chief replied affirmatively.

“Yes, you can but it may not be prudent. It could provoke similar actions from other claimants,” he warned.

Alejano expressed serious concern on the ongoing arms race in the region.

“The arms race is happening right now. Filing a diplomatic protest is not a shouting match.
We are now surrendering ourselves because we want to appease China,” he said.

“By all means we should talk to them but they would continue to pursue their national interest,” Alejano said.

“As a sovereign country, no matter how small we are, we should assert that (our sovereignty),” he said.

During the briefing, 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,” he said.

He said the country’s military spending should be reviewed.

“I don’t want to blame Congress, you must have your own reasons for not giving us P30 billion annually. Babalik kami sa Congress; we have now our second modernization program. Anong ibinibigay natin P25 billion a year; it is not even sufficient to buy one submarine. Anong instrument of power natin, diplomatic, doon tayo pupunta. Or economic, or legal,” Esperon said.

Esperon and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also disclosed the government’s upgrading port and airstrip facilities in Pag-asa Island.

“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,” Esperon said.

They said lighthouses are also now being constructed on features held by the Philippines to ensure safety of navigation, along with the country’s responsibility under the UNCLOS to provide navigational safety for all international vessels transiting the West Philippine Sea.