Esperon explains PH strategy in WPS
President Rodrigo Duterte may have “set aside” the international arbitral ruling favoring the country’s claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), but the defense establishment is continuing to undertake measures to protect Philippine sovereignty and territorial rights, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.
Speaking at a forum ahead of the State of the Nation Address (Sona) of the President, Esperon said the national security strategy was to push for a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the WPS dispute in the face of the President’s foreign policy to be “a friend to all, enemy to none.”
Esperon said the Armed Forces of the Philippines had conducted naval patrols covering 333,360 kilometers of the country’s maritime domain, and over 2,400 flying hours of maritime air patrol in the past year.
The setup of 20 shore observatory stations also resulted in the monitoring and challenge to 66,223 foreign and local vessels sighted within the country’s maritime area, he said.
“To maintain effective occupation over Philippine islands and features, our armed forces deployed personnel to these areas,” he said, referring to the country’s territories in the WPS.
The Philippines maintains troops on Rizal (Commodore) Reef, Kota (Loaita) Island, Pagasa (Thitu) Island, Parola (Northeast Cay) Island, Likas (West York) Island, Patag (Flat) Island, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, Lawak (Nanshan) Island, and Panata (Lankiam Cay) Island.
Code of conduct
Troops were also deployed to the Mardanas and Panguan Islands in Tawi-Tawi, as well as Itbayat and Mavulis in Batanes.
Esperon cited the country’s push for a code of conduct among all claimants in the South China Sea, particularly through the China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.
According to the National Security Strategy published by the National Security Council, “(t)he dispute over the WPS remains the foremost security challenge to Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The country, it added, will tread “with prudence on this… delicate issue (and) will carefully calibrate its diplomatic moves to avert the costly consequences of any potential outbreak of armed confrontations in the disputed region.”
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