PH must stand on own feet, assert interest over West PH Sea after past US inaction — Palace

Published April 19, 2021, 3:21 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The Philippines must stand on its own feet and assert its interest over the West Philippine Sea after the United States’ previous alleged inaction in the territorial dispute, a Palace official said Monday, April 19.

West Philippine Sea (PNA file photo)

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the country has learned its lesson after United States did not keep its word under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) to aid the country when it was dealing with the territorial dispute years ago.

Under the Philippines-United States defense pact signed in 1951, both nations are bound to come to the aid of another in case of an external armed attack.

“Mayroon na tayong karanasan sa tinatawag na collective security arrangements kasama na diyan ang Mutual Defense Treaty pero naging karanasan natin na bagamat may sulat na tayo’y bibigyan ng saklolo kapag tayo ay nalusob ay nawalan tayo ng dalawang isla (We have experience on collective security arrangements including the Mutual Defense Treaty. But based on our experience, although it was written that we will be given assistance in case of an attack, we lost two islands),” he said during an online press briefing Monday, April 19.

“Wala tayong nakuhang tulong doon są ating kapartido sa Mutual Defense Treaty ang Estado Unidos so ang leksyon natin kinakailangan na tumayo sa dalawang paa (We did not get any help from the United States, our partner in the Mutual Defense Treaty then. So the lesson is we must stand on our own two feet),” he said.

Roque was apparently referring to the 2012 incident when China seized control of Panatag or Scarborough Shoal and denied access to Filipino fishermen to the area. The tense standoff prompted the Aquino administration to bring the complaint before the Hague-based arbitration tribunal a year later. 

In 2016, the country secured a favorable 2016 ruling that nullified China’s excessive claims in the resource-rich South China Sea but Beijing has refused to recognize the decision.

Recently, tension in the region reignited after Manila protested the unlawful stay of more than 200 ships in the West Philippine Sea.  Manila has asked Beijing to pull out the ship but the Asian giant has ignored the plea. The President has yet to make a public statement about the matter but the Palace assured the nation Duterte remained hopeful the conflict will be resolved through peaceful and lawful means.

In his remarks Monday, Roque recognized that the country has already forged alliances with other nations to uphold the importance of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. But he cited the need for the country to stand up for itself and assert national interest.

“Matagal na po taong nagkakaroon ng kooperasyon sa ating mga karatig bansa, matagal na po tayong nakikipag-isa sa ASEAN at saka dito sa mga bansang Australia, Japan, India na para magkaroon po ng kumbaga collective effort para madepensahan iyong tinatawag natin freedom of the high seas (We have long sought cooperation with our neighbors, closely coordinate with ASEAN and countries like Australia, Japan, India to have a collective effort to defend the freedom of the high seas),” he said.

“Pero in the end po, we have to assert our national interest at iyan po ang ginagawa ng ating Presidente (But in the end, we have to assert our national interest and that is what the President is doing),” he said. 

Back in 2017, the President criticized the United States for allegedly doing nothing about the South China Sea conflict when it had a chance to nip it in the bud years ago. Duterte said America has taken a provocative stance on the South China Sea but claimed it did not confront China when it started to build manmade islands. “You could have (nipped) the problem in the bud had you taken decisive action,” Duterte told the United States.

Duterte previously said the country country could not challenge China’s presence in the disputed area, saying the local military could not match the Beijing’s military might.