By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippine government is amenable to any presence of the United States in the South China Sea if it could help keep peace and stability in the disputed territory.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the country wants “peace and quiet” in the region while its supports freedom of navigation in the waterway.
“The Philippines’ position is that every country has the right to use the waters in the South China Sea as well as the air space,” he said during a Palace press briefing.
“We want peace and quiet in that area so anything that will provide such kind of atmosphere we are for it. If the presence of the US will make it so, then that’s good for all of us – all of the claimants,” he said.
Panelo, however, said the United States must get the country’s permission before it can enter its territorial waters.
“Because we are supposed to be a sovereign country, no country should also come into our territory without our consent and knowledge,” he said.
Asked if the country approves of US presence in the South China Sea, Panelo said: “We desire peace and quiet in that area. No matter upon whose initiative coming from any country.”
US Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan recently slammed China’s excessive military buildup in the South China Sea. Shanahan did not directly identify China during a security gathering in Singapore last weekend but said the United States will not ignore Chinese behavior in in the region.
For now, Panelo said the Philippines would let the “giants do their thing” amid the South China Sea dispute, referring to the US and China. He maintained that the country does not want any conflict in the region.
“We will let giants do their thing,” he said.
“Sila nagkokontrol sa totoo lang. Tayo nanonood lang [They are the ones in control. We are just watching],” he added.
In his visit to Japan last week, the President said he “loved” China for its assistance to the country, but questioned its claim over the South China Sea. “It behooves upon us to ask, is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean?” he said.
The Philippines has been locked in a territorial dispute with China, which claims almost all of the South China Sea.
When Duterte assumed office in 2016, he decided to pursue bilateral negotiations with China to manage the dispute.
He repeatedly said the country could not afford to go to war with China since it would only lead the massacre of government troops.