DND chief undeterred by China’s warnings
The Philippines will not be deterred from asserting its rights in the West Philippine Sea, according to the country’s top defense official, even if China has warned against bringing construction materials and repairing the grounded BRP Sierra Madre that serves as a military outpost.
“We will insist on what we want, particularly in Ayungin Shoal and all other areas that we have a presence. We will insist on what we want to do because that is ours,” Jose Faustino Jr., undersecretary and officer in charge of the Department of National Defense (DND), said in a press conference on Thursday.
Last month, China Coast Guard warned troops at the BRP Sierra Madre of “consequences” if they continue “making trouble,” which Philippine authorities interpreted to mean the transport of construction materials and repair of the rusty warship. The Philippines occupies nine features in the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratly Islands.
Faustino said these warnings were already common and Filipino troops also answer them back. In his recent visit to Palawan, he said he learned that there was some sort of a hotline between the Philippine Coast Guard and the China Coast Guard, which serves as a communication line to prevent “miscalculation.”
Chinese coast guard and militia vessels continued to linger over contested areas, he added, but did not provide details. Their presence was already reported to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, which leads the overall response to situations in the area.
China, through its controversial “nine-dash line,” claims almost all of the South China Sea while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims. An arbitration tribunal rejected Beijing’s nine-dash-line claims in 2016, but China does not recognize its ruling.
“With or without the arbitral ruling we will continue to protect what is ours,” Faustino said.
The defense official said they were following President Marcos’ “strategic pronouncements” in dealing with China in the West Philippine Sea while there were no “direct instructions” from him so far. Mr. Marcos had said he would not allow “a single square millimeter of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon.”
‘Sovereignty is inviolable’
“Our sovereignty is inviolable and we have to protect our territorial integrity so that’s it, from those lines of the President, we will toe the line on whatever will be his statement on the West Philippine Sea,” Faustino said.
Marcos’ policy on the West Philippine Sea would likely be the same as that of his predecessor former President Rodrigo Duterte, according to Faustino, who served as military chief of staff under Duterte.
Duterte, however, was criticized for shelving the 2016 ruling in exchange for Chinese loans and investments.
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