PH won't join drills in South China Sea --- Lorenzana

The country will not participate in maritime drills with any country in the South China Sea (SCS) unless it is done within its 12-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has declared.

Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Lorenzana said it was President Duterte who gave the orders to prevent an escalation of tension in the disputed waters.

"The President has a standing order to us, to me that we should not involve ourselves in the naval exercises in the South China Sea except in our national waters.. the 12 mile distance from our shores," he said in a virtual briefing.

"I hope all parties in this exercise will work on their actions there or exercise prudence and carefulness so there will be no miscalculations that could further increase the tension," he added.

The defense chief's remarks came after the United States deployed its nuclear-powered warships in the SCS in recent weeks to counter China's aggressive moves to impose its might in the area.

Last month, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China also conducted exercises in SCS with a focus on enhancing its amphibious assault capabilities.

Lorenzana believes that teaming up with US, its long-time ally, will "definitely" increase the tension between Manila and Beijing, adding that it is the last thing that the country wants to do right now.

"We cannot do that, we cannot exercise in the South China Sea," he stated.

"If one country's action is considered belligerent by another, tension will rise," he noted.

Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay, newly-appointed Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), agreed with Lorenzana as he insisted that the country's dispute with China should be resolved "peacefully."

"We have reiterated our position favoring and supporting the diplomatic and peaceful resolution of conflicting interest in the West Philippine Sea," Gapay said.

"For us, there is no conflict as the arbitral ruling has fairly dismissed expansive claims that subvert international law and the laws of the sea. We will continue to advance this," he said, referring to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)'s decision favoring the Philippines' claims in SCS over China in 2016.

Duterte, however, refused to assert the country's claims in SCS using the tribunal ruling, and opted to resolve the matter by crafting a Code of Conduct in SCS with China and all other claimant-countries. 

Aside from Philippines and China, other countries which claim parts of the SCS include Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Brunei.