Lacson vows diplomacy in defending sovereignty over West PH Sea areas

Published November 26, 2021, 2:16 PM

by Mario Casayuran

Partido Reporma chairman and standard-bearer Panfilo M. Lacson has vowed to defend Philippine sovereignty over the contested West Philippine Sea (WPS) diplomatically.

Senator Panfilo ‘Ping’ Lacson

Lacson, chairman of the Senate National Defense and Security committee, said provoking a geopolitical flashpoint with an Asian superpower like China would not happen under a possible Lacson-Sotto administration even as it plans to build up a stronger defensive posture against foreign military aggressions over the WPS.

He gave this assurance during a weekly virtual media forum, intending to approach the Philippines’ perennial maritime disputes with China in a diplomatic but assertive manner, if and when Filipinos elect him as president.

“What we are going to pursue as a foreign policy direction is the balance of power. We should maintain that over the West Philippine Sea… Not to provoke war because nobody wins in a third world war or any world war for that matter,” Lacson said.

When asked how he plans to boost the military capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to protect the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone over the WPS, Lacson turned to the Revised AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Modernization Program, which he authored and sponsored during the 18th Congress.

Lacson said funds have already been provided for this measure under the proposed budget of the Department of National Defense (DND), which the Senate has deliberated on recently during its period of interpellations for the 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

Included in that program is the procurement of at least 26 multi combat role aircraft for the Philippine Air Force (PAF). This is part of the Horizon 2 acquisition phase of the AFP as agreed upon in its revised modernization guidelines, which encountered delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said they expect the arrival of these fighter jets by next year, according to Lacson, which would be a great help in terms of increasing aerial assets for the PAF to back up Filipino troops and civilians patrolling or navigating the WPS.

‘’The rolling out of the AFP modernization projects continues since that was already programmed. It is in accordance with our national budget year-in, year-out because it’s in the law. We need to comply with that through another law, which is the General Appropriations Act (GAA),’’ Lacson said.

The presidential aspirant also reiterated that the United States government has expressed its willingness to extend financial assistance to upgrade the Philippines’ military capability by virtue of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two allied countries.

Lacson earlier urged the incumbent administration to take advantage of this opportunity, saying that such funding support—not only from the US but even other countries—would help speed up the AFP modernization process without incurring additional national debt.

‘’That’s a great deal because we are already buried in debt, and while the procurement for [the items listed under] Horizons 1, 2, and 3 have been scheduled, it is still good to have that message coming from the United States to help upgrade our own military capabilities,’’ he explained.

Lacson underscored that he has no plans to downgrade diplomatic and economic relations with China while pursuing a ‘balance of power’ and ‘freedom of navigation’ agenda in the WPS.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III echoed this statement, saying they would rather create more friends than enemies in the region, once he and Lacson get to play more active roles in the geopolitical arena should they emerge successful in their respective electoral bids next year.

“It’s best that we are friends with everyone, that’s the best approach,” Sotto said, noting that his and Lacson’s foreign policy proposals, including a possible joint oil exploration with China over the WPS, would always be anchored on the pro-Filipino agenda.