AFP chief to uphold PH sovereign rights
President Duterte’s decision not to participate in military exercises in the South China Sea does not mean the Philippines is abdicating its sovereign rights to the West Philippine Sea and the Armed Forces of the Philippines continues to patrol and asserts its rights in the disputed waters, AFP chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said in a television interview.
Gapay, who was only recently named AFP chief of staff, made the remark amid various interpretations of and suppositions on Mr. Duterte’s decision not to participate in any military exercise in the South China Sea.
The spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, interpreted the announcement of Mr. Duterte’s decision to mean that the Philippines believed international activities in international waters provoked tensions in the region.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. hastily called out the foreign ministry spokesperson for reading too much into the President’s decision and warned Beijing against overinterpreting the decision.
Freedom of navigation
Locsin said the Philippines would simply be sitting out any scheduled exercise. “We don’t know if we will the next one. Okay?” said the country’s top diplomat.
But Wang’s remarks may also have been purposeful because it was made after the United States and Australia met in Washington on July 27 to discuss expanded military cooperation, including freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.
On July 2, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also announced that India had expressed its interest in holding freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.
The United States, Australia and India are all at odds with China over various issues, while the Philippines has military agreements with Washington and Canberra, and enjoys very cordial relations with New Delhi.
Although no such military exercises have been announced or even scheduled, the multilateral pronouncements and Mr. Duterte’s own declarations in his State of the Nation Address on July 27 has spurred a mix of interpretations, particularly on the AFP’s preparedness.
But Gapay, who still has around six months before his mandatory retirement in February, said the AFP had continuously enhanced its external defense capability through the AFP modernization program and has boosted its naval assets.
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