China in possession of WPS? They’re just ‘in position,’ Esperon says
MANILA, Philippines—National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Tuesday denied that China is “in possession” of the West Philippine Sea, a claim mentioned by President Rodrigo Duterte in his fourth State of the Nation Address (Sona).
According to Esperon, China is just “in position” as it has established its presence in key areas of the disputed territories.
“I think the President did not say that they are ‘in possession…’ but they are in position,” Esperon explained during the post-Sona press briefing of the administration’s Cabinet.
The former Armed Forces chief of staff pointed out that China’s militarization from 2012 to 2016 enabled them to take “positional advantage.”
“Admittedly, China has built up islands, artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea starting from 2012 to 2016 and up to now. But the construction islands there were completed as of 2016, so they are in position in such islands,” he said.
But the Philippines, Esperon said, will also strengthen its presence in the West Philippine Sea.
“They have the positional advantage right now and they have the equipment to reinforce their position, so what is our answer there? Our response is to also strengthen our position,” Esperon said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana backed Esperon’s claim, and noted that the President could be just referring to Scarborough Shoal when he declared that China is “in possession” of the West Philippine Sea.
“Nakaposisyon sila sa islands nila, but they are not in possession na pag-aari nila ‘yung West Philippine Sea because we are also claiming it,” the defense chief said.
The Philippines, along with fellow Southeast Asian Nations-member countries Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, have overlapping claims to the sea along with China.
Despite an agreement to refrain from undertaking provocative actions, China has continued to expand and militarize territories that it claims in the maritime region.
Maritime peace in the disputed territories was again tested when a Chinese trawler rammed and sank a Filipino fishing boat in Recto Bank, an area within Manila’s exclusive economic zone. A Vietnamese boat rescued 22 Filipino fishermen who were left floating at sea. /jpv
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