Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday called on Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to stand up for the country’s interests in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and renewed her call for a clear, consistent, and firm national policy for meeting the challenge of Chinese aggression in the disputed waters.
Hontiveros issued the statement after Lorenzana downplayed the risks posed by China’s Coast Guard Law by encouraging FIlipino fishermen to continue fishing in their traditional fishing grounds.
The China law authorizes the use of force against foreign vessels within disputed areas claimed by Beijing.
However, in another statement, Lorenzana said that the Philippines would not be joining naval drills in the South China Sea with other countries in the region for fear of antagonizing China.
Lorenzana said that “China is watching,” and that “a lot of things could be done to us by the Chinese government if they are antagonized.”
“With all due respect, Secretary Lorenzana, now is the time for firmness. China’s aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea, and not our joining joint exercises with our allies and other friendly nations, is the real threat to peace and stability in the region. It is also a clear and present danger to vital national interests in the contested areas. Why are we so considerate about antagonizing China when China seems intent on antagonizing us every day?” Hontiveros asked.
“I have always respected Secretary Lorenzana as an officer and a gentleman, but his flip-flopping and indecisiveness would only lead China to think that we are a weak nation. We also cannot stand up to China alone. But how are we going to work together with our allies when we don’t even want to be seen with them when China is looking? This is the sort of policy that is very unlikely to inspire confidence in the Philippines as a partner nation. Hindi tayo pagkakatiwalaan (We will not be trusted),” she added.
Hontiveros also said that the Philippines must emulate neighboring nations that have been firm and consistent with their policies by clearly rejecting Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Vietnam, for instance, has repeatedly condemned China’s military drills in the Paracel Islands, and has joined naval exercises in the South China Sea.
Indonesia has also made it known to the UN that while it is not party to disputes in the South China Sea, it maintains that China’s claim “clearly lacks international legal basis.”
Hontiveros then emphasized that Lorenzana’s vacillating position was not the first time top officials gave out mixed signals in connection with the issue.
She said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also downplayed the impact of the law by saying that our fisher folk were already protected by the provisions of the UNCLOS, an international agreement that China has already stated does not apply to conflicting claims within the South China Sea.