Defense chief on West PH dispute: ‘China is on my mind every day’

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana photo

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted that the country’s issues with China over the West Philippine Sea will be best resolved through President Rodrigo Duterte’s strategy of not provoking China.

“China is on my mind every day because of what they are doing in the West Philippine Sea. I wish I could make it go away but they are not, even if we are going to show them our arbitral ruling document, that they have no business there, they will not even honor it. So that’s it,” Lorenzana said as reported by The Philippine Star.

In his interview with ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) earlier this week, the defense secretary noted that he already worked with former Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario as he tried to garner the support of all claimant-countries to issue one unified statement with regard to the sea dispute.

“He (Del Rosario) tried to get all to issue a statement but no, two countries are always resisting the overture of secretary Del Rosario so we don’t have any statement because there’s no solid statement,” Lorenzana explained.

“There are five claimants from Asean: Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. If these five countries will have one voice, I think it will be strong enough,” the defense chief added as reported by The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

However, Lorenzana assured that the said dispute will not compromise the Filipinos freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea as China does not prevent the Philippines from moving around.  

“We can go to our islands scattered there in the Spratlys, outside our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), and we can resupply our people there anytime we want. We have ships going there, airplanes flying. They just challenge our airplanes but we reply back that we are flying over Philippine territory,” Lorenzana stated.

“We don’t have any force to confront them. What will I send there? A frigate with several cannons versus the better equipped – even their coast guards are better equipped than our Navy. Huge coast guard ships,” he added.

Lorenzana also commended former DFA secretary Alan Peter Cayetano for his effort to diplomatically discuss an agreement with the foreign minister of China, that the Chinese “can just stay there and no one builds anything new.”

“Where you are, stay there. Nobody’s occupying new features. So we have nine islands occupied by our troops. So we are there, improving the islands, improving the runway in Pag-Asa, it could be finished next year, cemented, so we can go there anytime we want,” he said.

“We have ships going there, airplanes flying. They just challenge our airplanes but we reply back that we are flying over Philippine territory,” he added as reported by The Manila Bulletin.

The defense secretary also emphasized that the UNCLOS decision will in no way affect nor override our historical claim.”

“Even with the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), there’s this running discussion between me and the ambassador of China. I said that you signed the UNCLOS in 1981 and that gave us 200-nautical mile EEZ,” Lorenzana said. 

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