'Duterte legacy': PH sovereignty asserted in West Philippine Sea sans war, says Lorenzana

Published July 21, 2021, 12:00 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

One of the biggest legacies of President Duterte’s administration was its assertion of the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) without the need to fire a single shot, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced Wednesday, July 21.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana presents the achievement of the Security, Justice, and Peace Cluster of Preaident Duterte’s administration in a pre-SONA forum on July 21, 2021. (Screenshot courtesy of RTVM livestream)

Lorenzana made the remark as he presented the achievements of the Security, Justice, and Peace Cluster (SJPC) of the Duterte administration at the third leg of the “Pamana ng Pagbabago: The 2021 Pre-State of the Nation (SONA) Forum” ahead of the President’s sixth and final SONA on July 26.

“Emboldened by President Duterte’s orders to defend what is rightfully ours without going to war and maintain the peace in the seas, we have continuously asserted our sovereignty and our sovereign rights,” said Lorenzana, also the chairperson of the SJPC.

The Defense Chief cited an increased sovereignty patrols in the WPS and other parts of the country to defend its territorial waters.

In 2020, he said a total of 186 air patrols and 575 maritime patrols were conducted as part of the military’s intensified deterence operations against all forms of threats.

Lorenzana said milestones were also reached by the AFP in enhancing its capacity and capability through upgraded systems, updated doctrines, and acquired capital assets and vital equipment, which are vital in fulfilling ita role of protecting the country.

Among the latest acquisitions of the military through the modernization program include two missile capable frigates — the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) and BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), six close air support aircraft, and 16 combat utility helicopters.

These new assets were already being used for territorial defense, counter-insurgency, peace-keeping, and humanitarian and disaster response (HADR) operations, he said.

“Although we still have a long way to go to achieve our desired level of defense posture, we can now proudly say that the AFP is definitely stronger than it was before,” Lorenzana noted.

He also cited various infrastructure developments in Pag-asa Island in Kalayaan, Palawan — the biggest outpost of the country in the WPS — and in Mavulis Island in Itbayat, Batanes to strengthen the defense posture of the military.

All of these efforts were done amid the heightened maritime activities of China in the WPS.

In March of this year, more than 220 Chinese vessels were spotted in Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the WPS, prompting Lorenzana to issue verbal attacks against the Chinese military and sparking a fresh tension between Manila and Beijing.

However, in presidential address on Monday, July 19, Lorenzana told Duterte that China appeared to have soften its stance in the WPS because they don’t want to have a confrontation with the Philippines.

This, after the Philippine Coast Guard drove away a Chinese naval warship near Marie Louise Bank near El Nido, Palawan last July 13.