By Francis Wakefield
CLARK AIR BASE, Pampanga – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday said aside from agreeing to pursue the Code of Conduct (COC), he and his Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich, also talked about dealing with fishermen encroaching on each other’s area.
In a press briefing following the Philippine Air Force’ initial acceptance of spare parts and maintenance equipment for its UH-1 Huey aircraft donated by the Japanese government here, Lorenzana said the topic was discussed in order for both countries to deal with the matter better.
“Kasi marami tayong nahuhuling mga Vietnamese fishermen andito. In fact in 2016 nga eh merong apat na barko sila na andiyan sa Sual (Pangasinan) na send off ni Presidente pa [Because we have apprehended many Vietnamese fishermen here. In fact in 2016 there were four ships in Sual, that coincided with the send off of the President],” Lorenzana said.
“Ang usapan namin kung mahuli, wag nang, [What we talked about if apprehended don’t] just tell them to go back to their area. Huwag na natin silang hulihin, sakit ng ulo eh [We don’t need to arrest them, its just headache],” he added.
Lorenzana explained that it is also costly or too expensive if Philippine authorities will arrest Vietnamese fishermen who illegally fish in our country’s waters.
“Hulihin mo ‘yan, dalhin mo yan sa ano, pakainin mo pa, paospital mo pa tapos paguwi, hihingi pa ng gasolina. pauwiin mo na lang sila dun [If you arrest them, you will have to bring them in, feed them, bring them to the hospital — just let them return to their country],” Lorenzana said.
“Like for instance the four ships na [which are] fishing boats, When we let them go in Sual in 2016, humingi pa ng gasoline [they asked for a full tank of gasoline, everyone of them.) Binigyan pa ng mga pagkain [We even gave them food]. So it brings a lot of trouble. So kung meron tayong makikita diyan [So if we see them there], just warn them “You are in Philippine waters. Please please go back to your area” in like manner. Kung andoon naman sa kanila ung fishermen natin [If our fishermen are there in their country] they’ll just tell them to go back. Kasi hindi naman alam ng fisherman kung ano eh, wala naman silang GPS [Because they don’t know] where they, [they don’t have GPS],” he added.
When asked if the matter was put on writing, Lorenzana said no.
“Pero [But] we agreed already. Parang policy lang yan eh [its just a policy],” he added.
Lorenzana said Vietnam was very responsive on how they want to deal with fishermen encroaching on each other’s territory.
“Okay naman. They’re very responsive. Kasi ang sabi namin [what we said] these fishermen are not actually very rich people. They’re actually just poor fishermen trying to earn a living so wag na natin silang pahirapan [so there is no need to make them suffer],” he said.
Lorenzana also said Vietnam has a different style of dealing with China, just like our country.
“We have to deal with the Chinese depending on our peculiar circumstances,” Lorenzana said.
“That’s why we are very much eager to finish the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea which we have been crafting since 2012 pa yata. Hanggang ngayon hindi pa tapos [Up to now it’s not finish] but hopefully with the cooperation of China, we will finish it in the next three years. Kailangan natin iyun para [We need that so that] we know how to act in the event of some, alam mo na, kung nagkakaroon ng issues sa baba alam na natin kung paano i-address [in case if there are problems we already know to address it],” he said.
Lorenzana said that he and his Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich both agreed to pursue the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea following his three-day visit in Hanoi from March 10 to March 13, 2019.
He said their discussion also touched on the importance of the Code of Conduct which he said should be pursued in the soonest possible time.
“How to navigate the issue in the face of Chinese increased activity. We both agreed that the Code of Conduct (COC) should be pursued and concluded in the fastest time possible,” Lorenzana said.
The Vietnamese News Agency was earlier quoted as saying that both Vietnam and the Philippine Defense Ministers agreed Monday to further foster defense cooperation, primarily mutual support in multilateral forums, as well as collaboration in military industry and medicine.
Lorenzana also reiterated that the Philippines will support the hosting of Defense Conferences when Hanoi takes over ASEAN presidency in 2020. As a result of the bilateral talks, both Asian nations will also increase the young officers’ exchange, and expand collaboration on unconventional security.
Lorenzana made a working visit to the Vietnam Military Telecommunications Group (Viettel) on Monday and placed a wreath in front of the monument dedicated to President Ho Chi Minh.
In 2015, Vietnam and the Philippines raised their links to the level of strategic partnership.
The 10 ASEAN leaders in November last year agreed to officially start the COC negotiations, citing the calmer situation in the disputed waters. The countries that have claims in the South China Sea are China, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Malaysia.
The Philippines vowed to take an active role in the COC negotiations when it assumes the role of coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership until 2021.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier said that the COC is not meant to resolve the disputes among the claimants, but is meant to manage incidents, prevent incidents from happening that may escalate or create situations that may complicate peace and stability in the region.