Esperon: Philippines never lost an island under Duterte
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines never lost an island in the West Philippine Sea under President Rodrigo Duterte, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. declared Wednesday.
Esperon was contradicting the claim of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that the Philippines has lost Sandy Cay to China during the incumbent Duterte administration.
“After three years of Duterte administration, we have not lost an island,” Esperon declared in a press briefing.
In fact, according to Esperon, Sandy Cay, one of the three sandbars near Pag-asa Island, remained “uninhabited.”
“May nababalita na nawala daw natin ‘yung Sandy Cay. Sandy Cay is one of the new actuation doon sa tabi ng Pag-asa island. May tatlong Sandy Cay doon na biglang above sea level… Tatlo. Dati parang hindi mo pa mahalata pero ngayon lumabas na,” Esperon said.
Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana rejected Carpio’s claim that the country has lost control of Sandy Cay.
“It’s not true. It’s still there. Nobody is occupying it. It’s within the sight of Pag-asa Island. It’s too close to Pag-asa and they are not occupied by anybody,” Lorenzana said.
Duterte has been harshly criticized for shelving the Philippines’ arbitral victory in 2016 against China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea.
The Philippines tried to build shelters for fishermen in Sandy Cay in 2017 but it was stopped after China protested it, citing an agreement not to occupy new features.
The Philippines along with fellow Southeast Asian neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and China have overlapping claims to the South China Sea. Despite an agreement to refrain from undertaking provocative actions, China has continued to expand and militarize territories that it claims in the maritime region.
PH ‘outfoxed’ by China
In the same press briefing, Esperon said that China “outfoxed” the Philippines in the two nations’ long-standing maritime dispute.
The former military chief also claimed that the Philippines was outsmarted in 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff when it pulled back its forces, giving China full control of the maritime territory.
“It remains a fact that we lost Scarborough Shoal, because of some miscalculations,” he said.
Maritime peace in the disputed territories faced a fresh hurdle when a Chinese trawler rammed and sank a Filipino fishing boat last month in Recto Bank, an area within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
While the Philippines has already finished its probe of the incident, Esperon said the Philippine and Chinese governments have yet to meet to compare the results of their respective investigations.
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