DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday defended President Duterte from criticisms about his supposed “defeatist” stance in protecting the country’s interest in West Philippine Sea in the South China Sea.
In a virtual press briefing, Lorenzana said the Duterte administration has not set aside the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 that favored the Philippines and invalidated China’s excessive claims over the South China Sea.
Duterte earlier said China has the arms which the Philippine lacks and he cannot afford a war with China in connection with the territorial dispute. He said some other Presidents can go to war but he cannot. He also said his administration should “just cool off” and pursue diplomatic means to counter China’s claims. He admitted that he is “inutile” and cannot do anything about the territorial dispute.
Lorenzana acknowledged that “a lot of criticisms has been hurled at the President for his alleged defeatist attitude or stance on our maritime dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.”
Among those who criticized the President for his defeatist stance was Sen. Panfilo Lacson who said letting an adversary know the helplessness of the Philippines will discourage other countries from from supporting the country.
“I believe he is not being defeatist, he is just being pragmatic and realistic… The President never set aside permanently the arbitral ruling or award,” said Lorenzana in depending the President.
Duterte and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, had initial discussions about the dispute in the past but the two leaders moved on to discuss other aspects of relations of the countries.
“He told President Xi ‘before my term ends, I will invoke it’,” Lorenzana said, referring to the arbitral ruling.
Lorenzana said the Chinese have been saying they are not recognizing the ruling and they are saying “they will remind us that they ignore the ruling.”
“The mere fact that they are mentioning it means that there is some understanding that it’s (ruling) is there, it exists in favor of the Philippines. Having said that, it’s always good to discuss or to sit down and talk with our neighbors,” he said.
Lorenzana said Philippine-China relations are not all about the South China Sea dispute.
“We have trade, we have other relationships with China that we would like to continue and we cannot do that if our posture is belligerent,” said Lorenzana.
Newly-installed Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said the President “is just adopting a realistic and pragmatic approach and strategy” in resolving the dispute and “without undermining our national interest.”
“We know that that is still our territory,” said Gapay who assumed the top military post Monday morning.
“For the information of everyone, the President has never given an instruction to stop the Armed Forces from patrolling that area. Day in, day out, our Air Force, our Navy continuously patrol that area, our territory in that West Philippine Sea,” he said, referring to that part of the South China Sea, which the Philippines claims.
China claims most of the South China Sea while the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam are claiming parts of it.
Gapay gave the assurance the military will be “steadfast in the performance of its mandate of protecting the people, defending the state and of course upholding our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Meanwhile, Lorenzana said the President would not want to be part of military exercises to be conducted by other countries, including United States, in the area.
“President Duterte has a standing order to me that we should not involve ourselves in naval exercises in the South China Sea, except in our national waters, the 12-mile distance from our shores,” he said.
Lorenzana said the Philippine military cannot participate in the exercises by US and other countries because such activities may only escalate tension in the area. He expressed hope the parties in the exercise will “exercise prudence and carefulness so that there will be no miscalculations that could further increase the tension,”