Navy chief backs ‘peaceful’ handling of West Philippine Sea dispute

Published July 28, 2020, 3:12 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

Philippine Navy (PN) Chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo on Tuesday highlighted the need to address the country’s maritime dispute with China in the South China Sea (SCS) as peacefully as possible.

Philippine Navy (PN) Chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo
(Philippine Navy / MANILA BULLETIN)

During his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday, President Duterte told his critics to call off their pleas for the administration to assert its rights in the SCS, particularly in defending the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) or the features it claims within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), unless they are “prepared to go to war” with China.

“What the President is saying is that with regards to WPS/SCS, we have to explore peaceful options when dealing with China,” Bacordo explained to the Manila Bulletin.

The Navy Chief added that options leading to an armed confrontation in the volatile waters “should be avoided.”

Duterte, in his SONA, admitted that China is “in possession” of the disputed waters because they have superior military capability compared to the Philippines, and he is “inutile” when it comes to insisting the nation’s rights through violent means.

“China is claiming it, we are claiming it. China has the arms, we do not have it. So, it is simple as that. They are in possession of the property,” he said.

“So what can we do? We have to go to war and I cannot afford it. Maybe some other president can, but I cannot. Inutil ako diyan sabihin ko sa inyo, and I’m willing to admit it. Talagang inutil ako diyan. Wala akong magawa (So what can we do? We have to go to war and I cannot afford it. Maybe some other president can, but I cannot. I am inutile in that aspect, I tell you, and I’m willing to admit it. I am really inutile. I can do nothing about it),” he noted.

Duterte also claimed sending the Marines to the coastal shores of Palawan is out of the question.

“Hindi pa nga naka-set sail iyan eh, sabog na (They will explode before they can even set sail),” he said.

However, Bacordo said the Navy continues to defend and uphold the national sovereignty and maritime integrity of the country.

“The Commander-in-Chief’s guidance to me when I assumed as the FOIC [Flag Officer in Command] of the PN is to protect our country and to protect the Filipino people,” he said.

“Our regular air and maritime patrols in the WPS, the regular conduct of the rotation and re-provisioning of our nine occupied features in the WPS is towards the fulfillment of that guidance,” he added. 

The said features are Pag-asa (Thitu) Island which saw the completion of a beaching ramp and a fisherman’s sheltered port last month, Likas (West York) Island, Parola (Northeast) Cay, Lawak (Nanshan) Island, Kota (Loaita) Island, Patag (Flat) Island, Panata (Lankiam) Cay, Rizal (Commodore) Reef and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal. 

In 2016, the Philippines won a landmark case against China when the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague, The Netherlands dismissed the claims of Beijing over a major portion of SCS using their historical rights.

However, the Chinese government has repeatedly refused to honor the ruling.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a pre-SONA forum on July 22 that the government has “actively” pushed for the effective implementation of the cooperative mechanisms to avoid heightened tension in the SCS.

It includes the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS, and the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in SCS by all claimant states. 

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has installed new air defense surveillance radars and set up additional detachments in strategic locations which can be used for the conduct of wider air and maritime patrols in the WPS.