By Genalyn Kabiling
BEIJING – Waging war should be the “last resort” amid a lingering dispute between the Philippines and China on the West Philippine Sea, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. insisted on Saturday.
Even as the country continues to assert its rights over the territory, Esperon maintained that the Philippines’ relations with China “do not start and end” with the South China Sea issue.
“The stationing of our forces in our islands there is simply an assertion of our territorial rights,” Esperon said in an interview with reporters in Beijing.
“We keep to our positions. If they keep to their positions let it be, but let us continue and even improve on things that we are doing together. It’s not all war, it’s not all war. In fact that should be the last resort,” he added.
As the two nations try to settle the territorial row through bilateral dialogue, Esperon noted that the two countries could further strengthen other areas of cooperation such as trade, investments, and tourism. He pointed out that there was no need to be “fixated” on the dispute.
“It should not really be the center on Pag-asa (Island). After all, the relation between China and the Philippines does not start and end in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea. What do we have? Trade, economic relations, cultural, people-to-people tourism, ang dami nating activities so why to be fixated on an island?” he said.
“It’s precious to us and so we have our detachment thereof a mix force of Air Force, Marines, and even Army so we take care of that and we are repairing our airstrip there,” he added.
He said the public should “not concentrate on that thing that could probably result in some frictions and even wars.”
Esperon made the remarks after President Duterte tackled the Wes Philippine Sea concerns, including the arbitral ruling nullifying China’s claims in the disputed territory, during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Thursday.
The two leaders have agreed to settle the South China Sea issue through bilateral negotiations but it should affect cooperation between the two countries.
Esperon said the President’s meeting with Xi about the West Philippine Sea was “very frank,” “very substantive,” and “very productive.” He noted that the President was “very firm in taking care of our national interest.”
“This is the best bilateral that the President has had so far with the President Xi Jinping. There were things that he said that I thought he would not say,” he said.
“The arbitral ruling was mentioned. He said that ‘I will bring up the arbitral ruling in another two years’ but by saying so, what message was he putting across,” he said.
Esperon declined to comment about Xi’s response to Dutete’s statement about the arbitral ruling, saying he was not authorized to speak for the Chinese leader.
The Duterte-Xi meeting ended though in a positive note.
“We were at the end of the bilaterals already so you could expect that instead of going into some differences, it should end with amity, cooperation, and readiness to further develop the good things that are going,” Esperon said.