‘Mixed signals’ on sea row only benefit China – Lacson
MANILA, Philippines — The return of Chinese maritime militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea should serve as a clarion call to rally all Filipinos around a common and firm stand against the incursions because a divided nation will only benefit China, Senator Panfilo Lacson said Thursday.
“To them (Chinese), so long as we are busy fighting among ourselves, they will do what they are now doing,” he said.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday issued the latest of a series of diplomatic protests to Beijing against the swarm of Chinese vessels that started in March.
Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security, was dismayed that the maritime dispute between the Philippines and China had caused divisions among Filipinos and that the country’s leaders were sending “mixed signals” to the people and the international community.
“We may wake up one day to see Chinese garrisons in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone). They are already there, in our territory,” he said.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Wednesday reported that at least 287 Chinese maritime militia vessels have been spotted in various parts of the Philippines’ 370-kilometer EEZ, including various maritime features under the jurisdiction of Palawan’s island town of Kalayaan in the Spratlys.
“In a way, we even anticipated the return of the Chinese vessels because the vessels that were in the area earlier were most likely just surveying,” Lacson said in a radio interview. “Their job was to scout the land and not yet occupy. Now they have returned.”
The senator also cited news reports that China previously landed its biggest warplane in December 2020 on the artificial island it had built on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef.
In a series of tweets on Thursday, Locsin also lambasted the task force for releasing its report to the media before informing the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
If the NTF-WPS had not breached protocol, “the only news today would be ‘DFA fires diplomatic protest over presence of 287 Chinese vessels.’ Shet,” he said on Twitter.
“Maybe these idiots will have learned the protocol next time. I took this up with the President in Davao. We have a disease: everybody and his uncle wants to be a hero fighting China from the anonymity of a task force,” he said.
Last month, he questioned a statement by the NTF-WPS also to the media expressing concern over Chinese intrusion in the Philippines’ EEZ.
“The NTF does not issue press releases. It is a secret group. I’m the trigger and the gun. And I’ve never responded to press releases. The refuge of nobodies,” Locsin tweeted.
Despite the detailed report of NTF-WPS Chair Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who is also the national security adviser, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the task force should clarify the locations of the Chinese vessels as some areas were claimed by several countries.
The government should only be concerned about the Chinese vessels in areas that are claimed by both China and the Philippines, he said.
Explore other channels
Lacson said the Philippines should now explore other means, including the use of “parliamentary-to-parliamentary channels” with other nations, to ensure a balance of power in the region.
He said some countries were “more than willing to pursue their respective national interests” to maintain stability in the West Philippine Sea.
“International trade is involved here,” he pointed out.
Roque said that if the Chinese vessels were in Philippine territory, or areas covered by our sovereign rights—referring to the country’s EEZ—then that should be considered “a problem” and the DFA should protest.
He said President Rodrigo Duterte’s strategy to befriend China was working, although it had not addressed all the problems between the two countries.
“Well, when I say it’s working, I’m not saying it’s perfect. So, if there is basis to file a diplomatic protest, a diplomatic protest should be filed because, in international law, one way to invalidate a claim to territory is to have acquiescence,” he said.
Reply to fisherman
He also reminded Filipino fishermen that the friendly approach of the President toward Beijing helped them to fish again at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is also called Bajo de Masinloc, from where they were driven away by the Chinese in 2012 during the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
Roque was commenting on the expressions of dismay and disgust from the fisherman who had asked Duterte during the 2016 presidential debate what he would do about the Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea should he win.
Duterte replied that he would ride a jet ski and plant the Philippine flag on one of the islands occupied by China to stake the country’s claims to the waters, never mind if they killed him.
Question for Carlo
Fisherman Carlo Montehermozo, who asked the question, said he was hurt by the President’s statement this week that the jet ski remark was just a joke, an expression of “bravado” during the campaign and that anyone who believed what he said was “really stupid.”
Montehermozo had personally experienced harassment from the Chinese and was among those driven away by the Chinese Coast Guard from one of the country’s traditional fishing grounds.
Nothing much has changed in his life since 2016 and he and his fellow fishermen still take risks of being confronted by the Chinese when they go fishing, he said.
In response to the fisherman’s statement, Roque said in a press briefing: “Carlo, the first question is, are you able to earn a living now? Isn’t it true that during the Aquino administration when we were confronting China, that was the time when you were unable to fish in [Scarborough Shoal]?”
“Let us not forget that if our policy on China had not been changed, you would not have been able to return to fishing,” he added.
“Who now gave you the opportunity, Carlo, to put food on the table? Isn’t it the policy of the President and not the policy to pick a fight with China?” Roque said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.