Alejano: Duterte ’40 years late’ in sending troops to occupy islands
Mr. President, you’re 40 years too late.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano on Friday ridiculed President Duterte’s pronouncement to send troops to unoccupied South China Sea islands and reefs claimed by the Philippines, saying nothing was left to grab in those disputed waters.
“There are no more islands in South China Sea to occupy unless we grab islands from Vietnam and China and run the risk of a shooting war,” said Alejano, who filed last month an impeachment complaint accusing the President of dereliction of duty in refusing to assert the country’s sovereign rights over Benham Rise and Panatag Shoal.
“It seems that the President is unaware of the issues in the West Philippine Sea,” he said in a statement. “The President is 40 years late in his appreciation since scrambling for islands to occupy by claimant countries happened in 1970s.”
Even assuming there were still uninhabited islands to occupy, he said, new occupation would constitute a violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea, a pact signed by the Philippines but not by China.
On Thursday, President Duterte said he ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to deploy troops to unoccupied islands in the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines.
He also said he intended to plant a Philippine flag on Pagasa Island, the second largest island in the Kalayaan group in the Spratlys region occupied by the Philippines.
Alejano said Duterte’s rhetoric, which he made during a visit to a military base in Palawan, was a clear indication that his camp recognized the “gravity” of the impeachment complaint filed by the Magdalo lawmaker.
In a supplemental impeachment complaint, the lawmaker alleged that the President betrayed the public trust and violated the 1987 Constitution by refusing to call China out on its incursions in the Philippines, including Benham Rise, an underwater landmass declared by the United Nations in 2012 to be part of the country’s continental shelf.
He also took Duterte to task for public statements indicating “inaction” and dereliction of his duty to assert the country’s sovereign and maritime rights, and territorial claims over Benham Rise, Panatag Shoal and the rest of the West Philippine Sea.
In his statement, Alejano said the public should be wary of taking the President’s statements seriously.
“The last time we heard the President speaking of raising the Philippine flag in a disputed territory, he later on admitted that he was merely joking. Let us try to be more critical on the pronouncements of the president and hold him accountable for it,” he said.
He noted an apparent contradiction in Duterte’s remarks.
“The President’s statements are actually contradictory and conflicting to his previous pronouncements. He claims he does not want to go to war with China and yet he orders our Armed Forces to occupy islands in West Philippine Sea, which is confrontative and provocative to other claimant countries,” Alejano said.
“I don’t oppose making friends with China. In fact, we should do this, but not at the expense of our national interest and security in West Philippine Sea, Scarborough Shoal, and Benham Rise,” he said. JE
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