Lorenzana: How do we deal with a state ready to defend its interests militarily?
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday dismissed the recent Social Weather Stations survey showing that 9 of 10 Filipinos would want the Philippines to recover its islands in the West Philippine Sea that China had seized, saying it was meant to vilify the government.
“The problem with the survey is it is laced with items to delict this government in a bad light,” Lorenzana told reporters. “That’s why I questioned the survey that came out with only 90 percent of Filipinos wanting to retake our EEZ [exclusive economic zone]? It should be 100 percent.”
The recent poll, conducted from June 27 to 30, said that 87 percent of Filipinos said it was important that the Philippines should recover the China-controlled artificial islands that it had seized.
An earlier survey by Pulse Asia also revealed that 80 percent of Filipinos did not agree with the country’s foreign policy on the territorial dispute with China.
“If I were to make a survey I would separate the two: Whether I want control of the WPS and do you approve of the government’s action,” Lorenzana said.
“Has the President abandoned our claim? No. Listen to his speeches. He would be impeached if he does it,” he said, emphasizing that no Philippine-controlled islands or reefs were lost to China during the time of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“The Chinese never took any of our occupied Islands. They took over unoccupied reefs and turned them into Islands. Had we been wiser we could have occupied those reefs as well when we occupied the 9 Islands in the 70s,” he said.
“How do you resolve the issue with a regional power that is ready to defend its interests militarily? [It’s easy to say:] ‘Let us assert our rights and sovereignty.’ Question is how? But first was there sovereignty violated?” he added.
The Duterte administration is facing criticisms for not bringing up the arbitration ruling in 2016 that invalidated China’s Nine-Dash Line claims, in exchange for economic investments from China. But Lorenzana said the President could not be accused of “inaction.”
“After his bilateral talks with President Xi [Jinping], our fishermen returned to Panatag to fish, we can resupply our troops on our islands without interference,” he said. “An agreement was made that both parties cannot occupy new features and none has done so far in compliance with this, and there is talk of joint development of gas and oil resources in the area. Ttourism and trade has flourished, especially export of agri products.”
Last month, the media reported the alleged bullying of Filipino fishermen by the Chinese Coast Guard at Scarborough Shoal by taking their best catch, but the government dismissed it as “inconclusive.”
Lorenzana said while, the past administration of President Benigno Aquino III, took China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and eventually won, there is no enforcement mechanism for the landmark ruling.
“China did not participate,” he said. “We won, but it is an empty victory: The Chinese won’t leave our EEZ and instead it continues to assert its historical rights over the areas within the Nine-Dash Line.”
But Lorenzana said he believed that the President would still bring up the ruling later on.
“The President invoked it before President Xi during their bilateral talks saying he will raise it within his term,” he said.
“There are many ways to do it. The President chose a strategy different from the previous confrontational strategy. The bottom line is: Are we getting good results? You bet we are,” he added.
While he wants to retake some of China’s occupied features, the defense secretary wants to be more careful about dealing with China.
For instance, Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) – one of the islands controlled by China taken away in 1995 – is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Part of the ruling said that the Philippines has sovereign rights over it and it’s the only state that can put up structures there.
“Of course, I want it vacated by the Chinese as well,” Lorenzana said. “But pray tell me how to do it when the Chinese is prepared to defend it militarily? In fact it is now garrisoned with troops and defensive weapons. Let us be pragmatic.” /atm
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