Defense Chief says PH can’t drive away Chinese militia in WPS

Published June 10, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Martin Sadongdong

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has admitted that the government cannot send away Chinese militia who continuously roam around the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (EPA/ROLEX DELA PENA / MANILA BULLETIN)
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

“We cannot let them go back by our own forces,” he told reporters after the inauguration of a newly completed beaching ramp on Pag-asa Island in the WPS on Tuesday.

During the event, several Chinese vessels were reportedly spotted near the island.

Lorenzana even expressed openness to the presence of the Chinese militia so long as they do not “molest” Filipino fishermen who are fishing in the WPS.

“Kung nandyan ang militia, which are actually ang cover nila ay fishermen, but we know that they are militia, I think they are there. Basta huwag lang nilang molestyahin ‘yung ating mga fishermen (If the militia are there, which are disguised as fishermen, but we know that they are militia, I think they are there. Just don’t molest our fishermen),” he said.

“They can stay there. Hindi naman natin sila mapaalis eh (We cannot send them away),” he added. The presence of Chinese militia in the WPS has long been a cause for concern among local fishermen.

There were reports that Chinese militia were harassing the fishermen and preventing them from fishing in features occupied by the Philippines.

There were also reports that local fishermen were being forced to trade their high-quality catch for noodles, sardines, or booze.

Hundreds of Chinese fishing boats have also swarmed Pagasa since December 2018 which hampered the development works being undertaken by the government to make the island a more viable community, according to the monitoring of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (AMTI-CSIS) based in the United States.

Lorenzana had denied these findings.

Moreover, a local fishing boat Gem-Vir 1 was rammed by a Chinese vessel on Reed Bank in WPS on June 9, 2019, drawing public anger and condemnation. The 22-member crew of Gem-Vir 1 were left floating on the sea and fighting for their life by the Chinese crew before they were rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.

The incident prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to file a diplomatic protest against the Chinese government.

Despite these, Lorenzana said that President Duterte has successfully managed the tension between China and the Philippines due to each other’s overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is claiming WPS, an area in the South China Sea which is within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

China has conducted reclamation works in artificial islands in the South China Sea to assert its dominance in claiming the majority of the vast waters.

“I believe our government, through the leadership of President Duterte, is managing the issue between China and the Philippines,” Lorenzana said.

“Maganda yung ano, okay naman tayo. The Chinese have said that they will not attack us so safe tayo rito (The [management of issue] is good, we are okay. The Chinese have said that they will not attack us, so we are safe),” he added.