Duterte is a realist on China, says Nica chief
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte’s stance on the West Philippine Sea is more realist than defeatist when it comes to China’s claims over the disputed waters, according to the country’s top intelligence official.
“What the President is doing is he’s using diplomacy,” said National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica) director general Alex Paul Monteagudo.
“These are part of our territory. These are our waters. We don’t have to fight because we will not win,” he said in a meeting with editors and reporters of the Inquirer on Tuesday.
Monteagudo cited Vietnam and its history of conflict with China over parts of the South China Sea as an example of what could happen to the Philippines. He said that in the end, Vietnam not only “lost all their claims” but also some of its troops.
“Whatever claim they had, China got … After the naval conflict, China occupied their holdings on the South China Sea,” the Nica chief pointed out, referring to the Johnson South Reef in the Union Banks region of the Spratlys.
Monteagudo also referred to a skirmish that broke out in the disputed reef between Chinese and Vietnamese forces on March 14, 1988, where dozens of Vietnamese soldiers were killed by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy.
“For us, what we have we just maintain it. We don’t engage them (Chinese forces) because if we engage them, we will lose and they will occupy it (our holdings at the West Philippine Sea),” Monteagudo pointed out.
He said that the President was a realist in the sense that he recognized that China was the second biggest economy in the world and that it could provide investments needed to alleviate the plight of Filipinos.
Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., deputy chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for civil-military operations, agreed with Monteagudo.
“He’s the only President who I think is a true realist. He’s very patriotic,” Parlade said of the President. “He has been telling us that we cannot go to war with China. We need to boost our strength because our defense was neglected by the past administrations.”
It was under then President Benigno Aquino III that China started reclamation work in the disputed Spratlys, Parlade added, referring to Beijing’s island-building on seven reefs also claimed by the Philippines.
“We [AFP] reported that to Malacañang at the time and they ignored it and we were told not to [rock] the boat, and then China’s reclamation continued. We updated the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] and Malacañang would not act,” Parlade said.
He noted that it was in 2014 that China began expanding their holdings by building structures on the disputed territory.
He lamented that it was only when the public began to question China’s reclamation that the previous government started to act but it was already too late.
Not to be combative
Monteagudo noted that the only thing missing from China’s installations in the Spratlys is the declaration of an air defense identification zone, or Adiz, which indicates a country’s claim to airspace over an area.
“Foreign policy is the President’s call,” Monteagudo said. “He has been very clear. He doesn’t want to be just combative in his statement.”
“He has actually drawn the line as far as the South China Sea is concerned. Panatag [Scarborough] Shoal, that’s the line [that cannot be crossed],” the Nica chief said. He did not elaborate.
A 2012 dispute over access to Panatag by Filipino fishermen led to the arbitration case filed by the Philippines challenging China’s claims over nearly the entire South China Sea.
The international arbitral tribunal ruled in July 2016 that there was no legal basis for China’s claim of historic rights over the waters. It also said China violated Philippine sovereign rights by interfering in its fishing and petroleum exploration in its exclusive economic zone.
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