Esperon on sea dispute: Fix internal problems first to become ‘a stronger nation’
The West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute is only one of the security challenges the country is facing, and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. believes that while they are keeping a close watch on the sea dispute, internal security problems should be addressed first.
“For the meantime, we have other things to do. We have to talk about the peace process with the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. We have to finish the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) problem. We have to develop Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon,” he told reporters Wednesday on the sidelines of the AFP change of command.
The national security adviser downplayed the Philippine Daily Inquirer report on the landing of two military transport planes in Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef), an artificial island controlled by China but is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Esperon said they have yet to confirm the photos, but said that the Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea were not surprising.
“We are not surprised that there would be reports on emplacements of surface-to-air, of course some jammers kasi meron na silang stationed troops doon (because they have stationed troops there). How I wish we could go back to earlier times when we have capabilities and we were expecting help from allies perhaps to stop it. Pero andyan na ‘yan eh. Anong gagawin mo (But it’s there already; what will you do about it), are we going to war?” he told reporters.
He said that the presence of the military transport planes were “not a threat but a cause of concern” if indeed the militarization was directed to the Philippines.
“How will a landing of an airplane be directed to us? Will that bear forces and land in our territory?” he said.
Esperon described the continued sea problem as “considerable” but also said that relations with China “does not start and end with the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.”
“Para sa akin lang, mas priority ko ‘yung pagtibayin ko muna yung loob ng bansa, tulad ng pagtapos ng peace talks, secessionist movement. Tapusin’ yung problema ng communist-terrorist. ‘Pag natapos na natin ‘yan, we can grow stronger through development,” he explained.
(For me, the priority is to strengthen the country from the inside, like the peace talks and the secessionist movement. Also, the problem with the communist terrorists. When we accomplish that, we can grow stronger through development.)
“We want to become a stronger nation. How can you be a stronger nation if you have the problem of MNLF, MILF? How can you be a stronger nation if communist terrorists continue to attack civilians and construction companies in the countryside. Paano ka mag-dedevelop (How will you develop)?” he said.
Esperon maintained while the sea dispute remained a problem, they have been able to manage it: “We have managed… through what we call the bilateral consultative mechanisms, kaya tuloy-tuloy na ‘yun (that will continue). Rather than shouting out or throwing remarks against each other, we have now managed the area.” /je
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