National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. believes that whoever will win between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in the US elections will play a key role in the volatile situation in the South China Sea.
Due to its interest in the Indo-Pacific region, the US has positioned itself in the South China Sea along with Japan, Australia, and India, forming the “Quad” Group.
“If we have a re-elected (US) president, then there will be a continuation of the current activities of the US in so far as going for freedom of navigation are concerned,” said Esperon, chairman of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, in a virtual press briefing.
“If we will have a new president, there will be some revision of policies perhaps,” he added.
Regardless of the outcome of US polls, Esperon assured that the Philippines, under the administration of President Duterte, will continue to exercise its sovereignty in the areas it occupies in the South China Sea.
“Let us remember that whoever is the head of state of the United States we will deal with him, our President will deal with him as he does now and as he does with other heads of state,” he said,
Esperon said that the NTF-WPS supports the American-led Quad Group in its belief of upholding the policy of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
The Indo-Pacific region is home to nations surrounded by the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean – the center of which is the South China Sea. Part of the South China Sea is the West Philippine Sea where lies the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.
“We believe that the South China Sea, which carries about $5-trillion value of trade for many nations, should be open, peaceful, and inclusive, meaning nobody should be excluded there and all countries that can trade and want to navigate through the area should be included,” Esperon said.
“There must be rules and it must result to the prosperity of all the nations in the area. We abide by these rules. If the Quad Group is for that, which they are, then we support them,” he added.
The Quad Group has consistently monitored the situation in the SCS, particularly the unilateral drills being conducted by China which some nations view as an attempt to tighten its grip on the disputed waters.
China is persistent in establishing its presence in the areas it claimed in the South China Sea, including some areas in the West Philippine Sea, even after the issuance of a tribunal ruling in 2016 which rejected Beijing’s sweeping claims.
The Philippines occupies nine islands in the West Philippine Sea, the biggest of which is the Pagasa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group under Palawan.
Esperon confirmed that up to this day, there are Chinese military and fishing vessels spotted near Pag-asa Island and in Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.
“We are certainly taking care of our big islands by improving our positions there. We now have an excellent safe harbor in Pagasa Island and we are about to repair our 1.2-kilometer airstrip. We are also improving the communications in those islands as well as putting in the necessary markers, lighthouses and many other things that our troops and residents need in the area,” he said.
“Rest assured that your NTF-WPS is looking into all of these and we are adopting a whole-of-nation approach into the development and protection of the WPS.”